POLL: Should bear hunting in New Jersey be banned?



Louis Webber has shot a black bear. He proudly poses with the animal as it is weighed, the butt of his shotgun wedged in his armpit. The tableau is punctured by the shouts of a handful of people who are holding placards.

“You’re a piece of shit,” a man yells at Webber. “You’re garbage. A murderer.”

Bear hunting has sharply divided New Jersey, a state known for Bruce Springsteen and smoke-spewing industry that also has underappreciated tracts of starkly beautiful countryside that contains plenty of bears. The US state most densely populated by humans also has the greatest density of black bears.

Louis Webber poses with a 222lb bear he has shot at a weigh station at the Whittingham wildlife management area in New Jersey. Photograph: Tim Knox for the Guardian

Since 2010, to reduce the risk of people being harassed or mauled, authorities have allowed an annual bear hunt. This year, for the first time, the six-day hunt was extended by four days – the initial total of 472 bears shot was deemed insufficient to control bear numbers. So hunters, primarily middle-aged men like Webber, picked up their guns to head back into the woods.

In the hunting window, bears of any age are allowed to be shot. Once killed, they must be taken to a checking station. There, wildlife officials weigh the animals, prise out a tooth to calculate the bear’s age and take a DNA sample. The hunters are then given a recipe book – bear chili and stew are popular dishes – and sent on their way.

Webber’s bear, at 222lb, is sizable but far from the heftiest brought in – a 600lb bear arrived last week.

Those who oppose the hunt argue it is cruel and unnecessary because there are non-lethal alternatives. The protesters outside the weigh station, at the Whittingham wildlife management area in the state’s north, about 55 miles west of New York, hold a banner featuring a bear and the slogan “They are all Cecil” – invoking the famed lion shot by an American dentist in Zimbabwe in July.

Hunters and their powerful supporter, Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor and presidential hopeful who is a hated figure among the anti-hunt faction, maintain bear numbers must be reduced, to avoid a repetition of the sort of tragedy that struck last September.

Darsh Patel, a 22-year-old college student, was hiking with friends near West Milford when they spotted a 300lb bear. There are conflicting reports about what happened next – animal welfare groups claim Patel’s friends taunted the bear – but we do know the group scattered and fled after taking pictures. Patel was mauled to death, his remains found within the bear after it was shot by a police officer.

Patel was the first person to be killed by a bear in New Jersey, but human interactions with the animals have been frequent in recent years. So far in 2015 there have been more than 2,000 bear sightings and incidents, including 44 raids on bird feeders, 118 strikes by vehicles, 14 attacks on dogs and 261 instances of rubbish being liberated from bins.

‘I’m about to become dinner’

Hunter Walter Michalski, who was wounded in a bear attack in 2014, takes aim during a visit to the Allamuchy Mountain park in New Jersey. Photograph: Tim Knox for the Guardian

On a frigid morning in Stanhope, a pretty, rural town, John Rogalo and his fellow hunters are discussing their near-death bear experiences. Rogalo once had a massive bear charge him. Unarmed, he screamed and beat a stick on the ground to scare it away.

“My wife called me and said, ‘Where are you? It’s dinner time.’ I said, ‘I’m about to become dinner,’” Rogalo says. “It was not a good experience.”

Recently, a bear and its cubs turned up in Rogalo’s back yard and swatted his dog, Dory, around the head.

“Bears are phenomenally strong. And smart,” he says.

Walter Michalski, part of Rogalo’s hunting group, had an even closer shave last year, while deer hunting. He stepped over a felled tree only to unwittingly disturb a bear in its den. The bear bit through Michalski’s boot and punctured his foot.

“Luckily, I had my gun so I shot it,” Michalski said. “They are a pain in the ass.”

We head out with Rogalo’s four-strong group but only after one of them, Donald Rolfs, hands your correspondent an orange top to cover a black jacket.

“You could look a bit like a black bear,” warns Rolfs, who has a luxurious bear rug at home, along with a cache of half a dozen guns and several bows.

Rogalo takes his men, all wearing fatigues, to three different locations in search of bears, directing them like a general as they fan out to attempt to flush out one of the animals. Despite the notable lack of bears as we wade through the coarse brush, Rogalo says they are now far more common than they were when he started hunting deer and turkeys in the area as a boy.

“I saw one bear when I was a teenager and it was really weird,” he says. “Now I see them every time I go into the woods during bow season [in October]. They are far too common.

“People are feeding them, either intentionally or unintentionally. The bears aren’t timid; they are used to living with people. They have been conditioned to think of food when they see humans. Not all of them are dangerous, but if a bear’s having a bad day, you don’t want to be there.”

The authorities have run educational campaigns urging people not to leave garbage out, not to keep chickens or bird feeders in their gardens. Officials say this has largely been successful, despite reports of bears jumping on bear-proof bins like trampolines until they pop open. But interactions keep occurring, perhaps not surprisingly given that nine million people now populate New Jersey, staking out areas that were previously bear habitat.

In many ways, the problem is a sign of conservation success. Bears were once considered vermin, shot on sight by settlers. In 1971, as bear numbers slumped to fewer than 100, hunting was banned.

Officials estimate there are now 3,500 black bears in New Jersey, based on 133 tagged animals. Animal welfare groups dispute this, claiming the numbers are far lower and that the target for killing bears – set at 20% of the total population this year – is arbitrary and flawed.

Rogalo thinks the target should be ramped up to 1,000 bears, to deal with a bear reproduction rate that is higher (at an average of 2.7 cubs per litter) than anywhere else in the US. Rogalo, who studied wildlife biology, says he has read the science, that the conservation of bears demands their numbers be reduced. He isn’t a trigger-happy redneck stereotype.

“There just isn’t enough habitat here,” he says. “Bears can’t live in apartment buildings. They need a lot of land – a boar [male] will need 20 square miles to roam. The habitat is saturated, there’s nowhere to move them and their numbers are growing exponentially.”

‘It’s unjust, it’s cruel’

Anti-hunt protesters lay out placards criticising the hunt and New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, at the Whittingham wildlife management area. Photograph: Tim Knox for the Guardian

But to the protesters, hunters like Rogalo are simply politically connected trophy collectors. They argue that the killing of such magnificent animals is inhumane and selfish given that non-lethal deterrents exist. A recent public consultation on the extension of the hunting season saw 92% of responses come out against the hunt, although overall support for hunting is strong – around eight in 10 Americans back the pastime.

“It’s unjust, it’s cruel,” says anti-hunting campaigner Doreen Frega. “They are making up their own numbers – if we had 3,500 bears in New Jersey, we’d see them everywhere. Everyone I talk to doesn’t see bears any more.

“There is no safety issue because bears are afraid of humans. All you have to do is clap your hands or make some noise and the bear will run away. They are majestic, beautiful animals, a signature of New Jersey, and yet they are being killed.

“It’s just a trophy hunt. It’s a bait and shoot – the hunters will leave doughnuts in the forest and wait for them. They skin them for rugs. They make footstools out of the cubs. It’s disgusting.”

But the bear hunt is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. New Jersey’s fish and wildlife service (FWS) wants to reduce bear numbers to around 1,500-2,000, to create what it believes is a sustainable population. It’s a difficult balance.

“We have presented hundreds of educational black bear seminars to thousands of residents,” says Bob Considine, a FWS spokesman. “We train law enforcement officers to respond to black bear incidents.

“But for all the education we offer and tips to reduce bear-human encounters, we still have a very robust bear population that is growing. The hunt is an important part of that management.”

Back on the hunt, we haven’t spotted a single bear, despite confirmation that they do, indeed, defecate in woodland areas. Rogalo has, however, spotted a deer from his vantage point on a ridge.

He stalks the animal, before scrambling down the hill at a speed that belies his 57 years. He positions himself on a log, takes aim and fires. He advances further, firing four more shots, causing leaves to jump up from the ground. We follow the trail of blood, smeared on the leaves and ferns, to a mortally wounded doe that is gulping its last breaths of air.

“Classic!” Rogalo cries. Delighted with his consolation prize, he guts the deer with a knife and drags it out of the forest. Rolfs lays claim to the heart and lungs.

Incongruously, a young couple, out for a stroll in the woods, walk past the bloody scene. If a little sheepishly, they smile.

This article was first published by the The Guardian on 20 Dec 2015.


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Angie Miranda

All hunting or the capture of animals should stop to exist

Delbert Smith

Linda French YOU devalue fish and chicken lives. There fore you prove my point it is most simply called being TWO FACED.

Delbert Smith

I love it when you anti-hunters start making statements. Name calling etc. it shows me you are out of facts, true facts. Shows your lack of intellect and the fact you are writing from emotion. I write from fact.

While I do have some problems being dislectic is one. its nothing close to proper for you to make fun.
Really ethical on your parts. LMAO and I get a lot of support even on this anti site.

Sarah La Rocca

I've seen the same argument applied to human trafficking in the developing world. People who pay for sex with children claim they are feeding families and thrtefore its harmless. It's disgusting and disturbing how some people can rationalize their evil sadistic exploits . Meanwhile, you have no idea how anyone here is contributing to wildlife and preservation of wild lands. Such comments only further expose you as ignorant.

Delbert Smith

Kathie Ingolio Look at where the money goes in the animal charities, , they are scams !!! But then it makes you feel good. The money I spend on hutning and fishing gear has built in taxes that upport wildlife in the USA. The money I spent hutning in Africa supplied hundred of jobs for local that cant even add 2+2. Kathie its easy for you to poke fun, why not post a pic of yourself.

Kathie Ingolio

Delbert, From the looks of the photo you've posted you are obviously mentally challenged which explains your comments. Speak for yourself but I've donated plenty to wildlife charities over the years. You presume too much. Why don't you do the same with all the so called Big taxes you pay to kill animals? You don't add value to life when you destroy it.

Kathie Ingolio

Delbert Smith Delbert – Put your money to better use. Save animals, not murder them.. The fact you don't need colleges speaks for your intelligence (or lack of).

Breeze Azrael

Yes, it should be banned its nasty and the people don't want it except for a few psychopaths.

Catherine Tchen

Humane+killing = oxymoron

Vanloy Gino

Europe has become a huge criminal bin for the same reasons and an immense stream of new immigrants whithout a responsible leadership! We are doomed!

Vanloy Gino

Linda French don't be afraid to stop, it is much better and wil get you there again where humans should be!

Vanloy Gino

Eat vegetables so you get a bigger heart and less cancer!

Vanloy Gino

big trucks, big guns,small braincapasity big mental disorder, unsure as hell and psychopats. Only selfdefense can be a reason to have or use a weapon! And only if proven necessary! Grow some real men!

Jette Guyette

We should ban all killing so… YES! YES! YES!

Delbert Smith

Sylvia Woon No I will not God gave man dominion over the animals, I eat what I kill to include lions and bears.

Free Reg

Yes! Ban the hunting!! Of all animals in New Jersey.

Roy Granville

Killing for pleasure is a crime against humanity!

Donna Parker

ALL WE SEE IS KILLING ON THIS PLANET, WOULDENT IT NE GREAT IF 2016 TURNED OUT TO BE THE YEAR HUMAN BEINGS STOPPED KILLING ANIMALS AND EACH OTHER

Jenny Spear Botts

Bear hunting should be banned everywhere!!

Laurie Zaslove

yes bear hunting should be banned!

Jeffrey Sarmiento

There is no reason to slaughter Black Bears education is the key to human and Bear interaction.Bears are shy by nature and primarily vegetarians,What we don`t understand we fear what we fear we eliminate! May this peacful creature always have a place in this world,Ban Bear hunting everywhere! Killing is not conservation!

Kay Louise Palmer

Think the vote has said it all. But Christie doesnt listen to public opinion because he hunts and is totally devoid of common sense.

Melissa Murkin Wallwork

Stop this evil hunting now

Linda French

Steph AR I do eat fish, and chicken only. Mostly fish, sea food, chicken I am trying to stop because of the way they are killed.

Rick Ferrer

Stop the murderers at all cost.

Debbie Christian

Brainwashed since they were children, the hunters will never wake up out of their blood lust stupor to understand that they are killing magnificient creatures that deserve to live. They suffer just as we do. They are intelligent beings (the bears), and are worthy of life without threats of death by some maligned human that thinks that they have to kill them to protect people from them, or have to have them for meat (which most say tastes terrible), or as a trophy to let everyone know what a great white hunter they are. This is not the purpose of… Read more »

Denise Bakes

please stop killing these beautiful bears its so very cruel and unfair please let them live there lives as they should be doing thanks

Leonor Mendonça

Claro, isso é uma crueldade, desses idiotas.

Rita De Ferrary

Humans should be controlled strictly from breeding like bacteria. If humans didn't breed like a virus there would be space for all earth's creatures. America was fine when it was in the hands of native peoples. The progeny of immigrants to this continent has destroyed natures bounty and turned the continent into a cesspool of human garbage.

Karin Bradshaw

Ican only agree with Tierra Chapman

Steph AR

Those who kill any animals are murderers not just wildlife. Do you eat meat?

Steph AR

Only cowardly hunters want to kill what next will they move on to humans…any scum hunt animals for fun they need professional help

Dave Christie'Photography

Humans(not all obv.) arent happy unless they are killing something , and come up with excuses to explain it away!! WHEN WILL WE LEARN!!

Sarah La Rocca

The state has clearly demonstrated they cannot accurately and humanely manage the hunting of bears. Nursing mothers and cubs were killed. More bears were killed than they allocated. It was a blood bath and needs to stop. No bear hunting in New Jersey !!!

Kate Evans

Beautiful animals that are killed because people, so called hunters use the excuse they are in the way of human activity because their numbers are growing. They only want the chance to live why can people not let them.

Gerda Bauden

stoppen die ne boelshit

Belinda Fellgate

Little men with little minds and little architecture to match. Why don't they just go out and buy Viagra? Do they seriously think this is going to win them brownie points with women?

Connie Sparks

Trophy hunters, need to t a life, they feel the need to kill for no reason they get a high off of it,disusting!!!!

Paul Raymond Hiscock

Cull some humans instead

Sylvia Woon

You'll burn in hell Delbert. Mark my words you revolting Godless piece of trash.

Sylvia Woon

Its so evil and shameful to go out and kill animals for fun. OFCOURSE it should be banned.

Billy Angus

Trophy hunters and Gov. Christie are a pain-in-the-arse!!
They're nothing more than bunch of lazy, inbred tub-of-lard Neanderthal slobs
from the Stone Age, still dragging their knuckles on the ground
like an ape, speaking "Ooga-Ooga"!!
I'm praying for the glorious day when Gov. Christie
and his camo-clad redneck trophy-hunting henchmen
becomes extinct!!

Peggy Dietrich

Ban all hunting and trapping.

Jan Fredericks

Horrible to injure/maim or kill innocent animals.

Maureen Ellen McGill

These murderers probably all suffer from SPS Small Penis Syndrome as many surveys have proved. If not this they have another sexual deficient so killing a bear makes them feel like real men.
Real men do not Hunt!

Animals Need Help Too

murdering innocent animals with a gun is not cool…it's wimpy and sad. why not fight them like a man, hand to hand combat?

Laura Tracy Hawkins

Why do the few get to kill animals that the vast majority want in the wild?

Peter Deelen

I hope he wil shot some day the ugly bastard !!!!!

Linda French

Those who kill wildlife for sport will always have excuses to support their need to kill. Deep down they are all sicko's who lack compassion. Delbert Smith is a prime example. I have no use these people, and I will continue to support no hunts, and yes Delbert – I spend a lot of my own money to support any group that will reduce the killing of wildlife.

Delbert Smith

Helen Wood A single tax rebate. Hate to tell you pep[;e who dont know I paid more than a little tax rebates every year, I pay taxes for wildlife everytime I buy a license, a fishing hook, even rifle parts, walk through an sporting goods stor int he USA and understand that hunting and fishing equipment have a built in tax, paid at the manufacters level. 1900 there were less than 500,000 white tail deer int he USA, today there are over 32,000,000. paid for by hunters exclusicly. 50 years ago there were less than12,000 pronghorn antelopem today well over… Read more »