This week the newly elected governor of New Jersey announced a ban on hunting black bears on the state's public lands. Not only is this a political overreach, it goes against everything the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation has established. It was all done in the name of “safety.” But the issue of safety is only a red herring to what proponents of anti-hunting actually want, an outright ban on hunting in general. This is only the first step toward reaching their goal.
For Safety's Sake?
Is it really an issue of safety? If so, why hasn’t the governor of New Jersey banned deer hunting or turkey hunting on public lands in the state? The issue of safety is easily debunked when looking at statistics provided by the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) on what is call “Hunting Related Shooting Incidents” or HRSIs. According to QDMA, Pennsylvania has the highest hunter density of all 50 states. As of 2012, hunter density is more than 20 hunters per square mile in Pennsylvania, compared to New Jersey’s 10.5. Even with the highest hunter density, incidents have declined steadily and significantly over the past 40 years. This is even the case when taking into account declining hunter numbers. Gov. Murphy appears to be securing his attempts at re-election by catering to what he thinks is the larger demographic—anti-hunters.
It's estimated the northern part of New Jersey has the densest population of black bears in North America, as many as 3,500 bears. Gus Congemi of Live the Wild Life TV has hunted in New Jersey for black bears for the last four years, primarily on public land. He's spent time with New Jersey’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, gathering information on the bear population on the state’s public lands. He has seen, first hand, how many bears New Jersey has in the wild.
Gus Congemi has hunted black bears on New Jersey public land for four years. He's now searching for private options.
“People of New Jersey have no idea what’s there,” said Congemi, referring to not only the number of bears, but the size of the bears as well. He believes New Jersey has bears reaching 800 pounds, and many in the 600 pound range.
Congemi said despite the bears having clearly outgrown their habitat, he knew the ban was imminent, citing the history of bear hunting bans in the state and the end of Gov. Christie’s time in the office. He also has had to deal with the protestors at the bear check stations. Because of the ban he will have to change tactics, and is looking for private land in hopes to continue bear hunting in New Jersey.
“Conservation is the wise use of our resources. It’s pretty alarming that when you have that high of a density (of black bears) you turn your back on a conservation measure to manage that resource.”
- Brandon Butler, Executive Director of Conservation Federation of Missouri
Emotions, Ignorance Impacted the Decision
Brandon Butler, the Executive Director of Conservation Federation of Missouri, focuses on emphasizing the organization's mission, promoting Missouri's rich conservation heritage, and educating about the importance of conservation efforts with his work as an author. He believes "emotion got in the way of science” in New Jersey.
“Conservation is the wise use of our resources," Butler said. "It’s pretty alarming that when you have that high of a density (of black bears) you turn your back on a conservation measure to manage that resource.”
Butler is concerned with the precedent that's being set, and if other parts of the country follow suit that wildlife managers and conservationists will be faced with serious challenges when trying to effectively manage resources.
Butler noted that Gov. Murphy will have to be prepared for the ramifications of banning bear hunting on public land. Not only because of the likely increase human-wildlife conflict but the economic aspect of black bear hunting as well. The money that hunters bring into the state for hotels, gas, and restaurants help support the small communities in New Jersey. The ban will also lessen the number of bear licenses sold and sporting goods sales associated with bear hunting. This will ultimately negatively affect the amount of money that will be raised and can be used for wildlife conservation in New Jersey. Overall the hunting and fishing industry makes a $156 billion impact nationally each year.
Hunters and sportsmen in New Jersey must take action to push back against Gov. Murphy. Butler suggests that New Jersey hunters look for a coalition of sportsmen’s organizations that can help secure the support of non-hunting organizations that have biologists on staff and understand that hunting is a tool for wildlife conservation.
Hunters should share stories from their holistic experience and stop focusing merely on trophy shots.
How You Present Hunting Matters
Congemi echoed Butler’s statements about reaching out to non-hunters.
“If we can show that hunting is more of an outdoor experience, we can bring in the people who are on the fence about hunting," Congemi said. "We need to educate the public about what we do, with a little more compassion and understanding. There are a lot of people who are on the fence about hunting, and sometimes by our actions we turn off those people instead of bringing them in, instead of helping them understand what we do. We are not doing a great job with our message.”
Congemi emphasized unity within the hunting community if there is any hope to reversing the ban on public land black bear hunting.
“We are too interested in infighting," he said. "We are not a united front, but the anti-hunters are united. If we were a united front we would have more power."
Hear Gus Congemi talk about his bear hunts on our podcast. Listen Now.
Unfortunately, bear hunting does not have an associated conservation association federation like turkeys have the National Wild Turkey Federation, or how whitetails have Whitetails Unlimited or Quality Deer Management Association. These species specific organizations would offer instant opposition if a ban on public land was attempted. Deer, turkey, and other hunters cannot become complacent because the ban is limited to one species. A step towards banning hunting of any kind is a step towards banning hunting altogether.
As hunters, we need to remind the non-hunters, such as Gov. Murphy, why this decision will cause more harm than good. All hunters need to stand united, show support for the bear hunters of New Jersey, and help them in their fight to reverse the anti-hunting agenda being pushed in New Jersey. We are stronger together.