Final hunt day draws ex-senator, protesters, but is short on bears - New Jersey Herald -
FREDON -- With temperatures just below freezing and snow falling, state Sen. Ray Lesniak, a Democrat from Union County, and former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli were among more than 75 protesters outside the Whittingham Wildlife Management Area Saturday for the final day of the state bear hunt.
After officials with the Department of Environmental Protection announced that they believed the bipedal bear, known as Pedals, was killed during the archery/muzzleloader segment of the bear hunt in October, Lesniak introduced a bill, called Pedals' Law, that seeks a five-year moratorium on the bear hunt. The proposal also would prohibit baiting as a hunting aid and would promote non-lethal alternatives to hunting.
The bill has gained approval from the Senate economic growth committee, but a vote by the full state Senate has yet to be scheduled.
On Saturday, Lesniak reiterated the reasoning behind his proposed bill and was met with applause from the crowd of protesters.
"I am proclaiming that this will be the last day of the bear hunt in the state of New Jersey," Lesniak told the New Jersey Herald. "There are so many non-lethal means to manage the bear population."
Torricelli, who lives on a 700-acre farm in Hunterdon County, said he saw a single bear once on his property.
Standing outside with his pure white Siberian husky, Torricelli said he was "deeply offended" by the bear hunt, calling it "more of a slaughter than a sport."
"I pledge to end the bear hunt. They are slaughtering entire families, even these 40-pound bears that have just been born," he said. "This isn't hunting, this is slaughtering."
Bill Crain, the City College of New York professor and resident of Poughquag, N.Y., who was sentenced on Thursday to 10 days in jail after his seventh civil disobedience conviction stemming from repeated bear protests, also made an appearance at the Fredon check station from 10 a.m. to noon.
Crain said he came out to do everything he could to protest "these cruel bear hunts" and to show his solidarity.
"The undertone of the entire day was just tremendous pain and sadness," Crain said as he got emotional.
Referring to his jail sentence, Crain said it will be "undoubtedly unpleasant," but said it would be "nothing compared to the bear hunt and what the bears go through."
"(My jail sentence) is a way of showing how serious I take this cruel slaughter; a way of showing this matters deeply, so I am willing to serve the time in jail," he said.
Crain said he has received tremendous support from his friends after they heard of his sentencing.
Dani Varon, of Vernon, who had been standing outside for two hours bundled up in layers, said she would have come out regardless of the weather.
"I would be here even if it was pouring rain," she said.
Protesters, including a child with his father, came and went throughout the morning, holding coffee and wrapping up in warm blankets, as they held posters in the air and shouted words of disgust to half-dozen law enforcement officials.
As of noon, no hunters had arrived at the weigh station.
"It has been slow the entire week," said Robert Geist, DEP spokesman, who was standing by in Fredon.
Geist said that any number of factors could account for why bears are not active this time of year, including the colder weather.
"Sows (female bears) are already denning up for the winter, and this segment started out with a lot of rain and sleet, so the weather hasn't been the greatest," Geist said.
Bears will only come out during the cold weather if they are hungry, Geist said, and more often then not, they are most likely already full for the remainder of the winter at this time of year.
Protester Cheryl Monnett, of West Milford, said she believes the reason for the scarcity of bears this week is that "most of them were killed in October."
Standing beside a flower wreath with the words "RIP all of our beloved bears," Varon said she felt "disgusted" and "sick" over the hunt and believes that it is important for people to educate themselves on bears.
"Get a garbage-proof can. This is their habitat, and hunters are just going in there, baiting them with junk food and killing everything they can around them," Varon said. "We have people move from the city to Sussex County and there is a whole new set of rules. A bear is going to want to eat your trash; they are hungry. The people need to educate themselves."
Varon and Monnett also said that they have never come upon a black bear that has been aggressive.
"I have horses on my farm and the bear never even go near them. I've gone hiking and I've seen bears and they just go off in the other direction," Monnett said.
Jan Fredericks, president of God's Creatures Ministry in Wayne, came out to protest because she believes people need to build a stronger sense of compassion for all animals.
"The Bible mentions hunting and that we need to be held accountable for our actions," she said.
Although prostesters came in droves, with as many as a 100 at any given time, Geist said that as of noon, no arrests had been made.
"It's been relatively amicable," Geist said.
Geist said the bear hunt is part of the DEP's comprehensive management plan that will determine, among other factors, where the bear population is in the state.
Although total bear counts were not tallied as of Saturday evening for the final day of the hunt, a total of 67 bears had been counted throughout the state's check stations as of Saturday.
An additional four bears were brought into the Fredon weigh station on Friday.
With the October segment included, the total number of bears killed is 629.
Friday's total included two tagged bears, bumping the season total to 51, or 25.9 percent of tagged bears.
The hunt ended a half-hour after sunset on Saturday.
Lori Comstock can also be reached on Twitter:
ComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.