By Bruce A. Scruton New Jersey Herald
Posted: Oct. 9, 2018 12:01 am
Weather and the ban on bear hunting on state-owned lands are the likely reasons that harvest numbers for the first day of the 2018 archery season for bears in New Jersey were way down from last year's figures - at first.
But by the end of the day, 36 bears had been brought in by hunters for the first day of the archery hunt, a couple more than the 34 killed on the first day of the hunt last year.
As of early Monday afternoon, only a half-dozen bears had been brought to the Whittingham Wildlife Management Area check station, which was to remain open until 9 p.m. That station, located in Fredon, is most often the busiest of the five stations that were open on Monday.
It is also the focus of the annual bear hunt protest and where, this year, four protesters were arrested, including Bill Crain, 75, arrested for the ninth year. Crain, as he has done in past years, walked into the middle of Fredon-Springdale Road when no traffic was coming and refused to leave when asked to do so by conservation officers and State Police troopers.
Two women were arrested after they allegedly ran into the road in front of a pickup truck, forcing it to stop. A third woman was arrested when she walked in front of the pickup as the first two were being taken away by officers.
Danielle Varon, 51, and Catherine McCartney, 50, both of Vernon, were the first two women arrested while Lauren Mallon, 28, of Lodi, was the third.
All four protesters were charged with not following direction of law enforcement officers to move out of the street, not staying in the designated area set aside for protests and improper use of a wildlife management area.
They were booked at the State Police barracks in Frankford and are to appear in municipal court at a later date.
Crain, Varon and McCartney were arrested on similar charges last year. Crain, because of his lengthy list of protest arrests, served a 12-day jail sentence. McCartney, who also was arrested at a 2016 protest, was fined $533 following last year's arrest and Varon was fined $283. Mallon has not been arrested at previous bear hunt protests.
36 bears killed
According to the Division of Fish and Wildlife, 36 bears were brought in by the time the check-in stations closed at 9 p.m.
Fifteen of those bears were killed in Sussex County; 7 in Warren; 6 in Passaic and 8 in Morris.
On Monday morning, three of the bears brought to Whittingham by 11 a.m. were reported shot in on private property in Frelinghuysen, Warren County. A fourth was from the Lafayette-Sparta area.
On the first day of last year's archery season, officials reported 34 bears harvested. A total of 244 bears were reported killed during the six-day October segment of the 2017 hunt.
Of that number, 23 were harvested in Sussex County the first day of the hunt and 133 total from Sussex County.
Pickup truck stopped by protesters
Tony Zgainer, of Maryland, who was driving the truck that the protesters stopped, said this was his first black bear taken in New Jersey, and fifth he has killed in the past several years.
"I've hunted all over," he said, mentioning Virginia, California and Saskatchewan.
Zgainer said he hunted on private land.
"We called a couple of sporting goods stores to see if they knew of a place," he said, "and they put us in touch with the owner who was happy to have us hunt his land."
Of the road incident, Zgainer shrugged it off, but a passenger in the back seat of the four-door pick-up, who declined to give his name, said, "She just ran right out in front of us. I didn't think Tony was going to see her."
Following the arrest of the three women, the protesters tried to file a complaint against Zgainer for having an obscured rear license plate.
As technicians were examining the bear and taking tissue samples, a state police lieutenant examined the truck, which had a carrier on the back bumper, which is common for carrying extra gear. In this case, the carrier had an ice chest strapped in it.
As the truck began to leave, other protesters tried to stop it, but were kept away by officers. The protesters yelled. The lieutenant explained that the truck had both back and front license plates which could be clearly seen. Zgainer was not charged.
Things were much quieter for Rich Fallon of Cervill, who drove into the check station at about 1 p.m. without being spotted by the protesters, who were packing up.
He said the bear he killed with one shot was taken on private property he has been leasing for the past decade.
"It was the third we saw this morning," he said. "The others were a little further out."
He said he would be eating the meat from the bear and since it was his first successfully hunted bear, would likely have the head and shoulders mounted. The bear, which had been field-dressed, weighed 101 pounds.
The bear had an inner-lip tattoo and matching ear tag and a second ear tag with a different number, meaning the animal had been handled at least twice by wildlife biologists or technicians.
30 percent of bears killed must be tagged
The Division of Fish and Wildlife tags a specific number of bears in the five bear hunt zones, based on population estimates by the division's biologists in consultation with university wildlife management departments.
As bears are brought to the check stations, the technicians count the specially tagged bears.
The biologists are looking for between 20-30 percent of the bears killed to be tagged bears. On Monday, five tagged bears were taken by hunters, 4.2 percent of the total killed, according to the state Division of Fish and Wildlife.
If the total percentage of bears killed is below 20 percent following the six-day shotgun season in December, the hunt can be extended by four days; if the percentage of tagged bears is over 30 percent of those killed, the hunt can be canceled, even if that percentage is reached in October.
There were 120 bears tagged for this year's hunt. The state tagged 135 bears last year.
This is the third season for an October archery season for bear. The state's current five-year black bear management policy recommended the archery segment because of the interest by hunters and because black bears are available for harvest in October. By December, most pregnant sows have bedded down for the winter and females with cubs of the year are less mobile.
The state's management plan says a managed hunt is the only practical method of controlling the black bear population to lessen bear-human contact. The plan also recommends humans contain their garbage and advocates education for those who use the state's woods and preserved places for recreation.
This year's protest at Whittingham -- the only approved location for protesters -- drew more people than normal apparently because of Gov. Phil Murphy's order banning bear hunting from lands owned by the state Department of Environmental Protection, such as parks, forests and wildlife management areas.
Although bear hunting is banned in those areas, other types of hunting are still allowed.
Protesters: Ban on state land not enough
Murphy's ban on state land wasn't good enough for the protesters who called him "Phony Phil," claiming he went back on his campaign promise to cancel the black bear hunt.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club, was at Whittingham and spoke at the press conference held before the protest.
"We are having an event here, that we never thought we would have this year," he said, before blasting Murphy's decision to close down state lands to bear hunting.
It is the opinion of the Sierra Club, along with other anti-hunting groups, that Murphy can completely stop the bear hunt, not just prohibit the hunt on state lands.
Minutes before he was arrested, Crain spoke to the media. "Just because a bear lives on state property, it lives," he said, referring to the order by Murphy prohibiting bear hunting on state land.
"Every bear has emotions, feelings as well as humans," he said. "All bears deserve to live."
Lawsuits on both sides
On Thursday, a trio of sportsmen's groups -- New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, Sierra Club International and Sportsmen's Alliance -- filed a lawsuit in state Appellate Court challenging Murphy's order banning bear hunting on state land.
Their argument is that the governor is violating state procedures by failing to take public comment or consider scientific evidence; the governor violated federal law by diverting the use of state-managed lands away from the uses mandated by funding laws and agreements with the federal government and banned bear hunting on state-managed lands without scientific or policy justification but instituted the ban in fulfillment of a campaign promise.
Doris Lin, attorney for several animal rights groups, was at Monday's protest and said the group's lawsuit against the state over the bear hunt, filed in 2015, is scheduled for oral arguments in the Appellate Division on Nov. 9. That lawsuit is over the newest black bear management plan which was a five-year update of the 2010 plan that recommended a bear hunt.
Brian Hackett, New Jersey state director of the Humane Society of the United States, said New Jersey "is one of only two states that allows the killing of baby black bear cubs" and said that proves the state's "thirst for trophy hunting." He also said that, "Poll after poll shows that 90 percent of the New Jersey population is against this extreme trophy hunt."