FREDON - Sheltered in patrol vehicles on one side of the road were the troopers and conservation officers; sitting in their cars on the other side, a small group of bear hunt protesters.
However, no bears were checked in by early afternoon at the Whittingham Wildlife Management Area on the first day of the shotgun bear season.
The hunt opened just before sunrise with dense fog in some areas and all state land closed to bear hunting. By late morning, the fog had not lifted and a steady rain began to fall.
The protesters who converge at the Whittingham station were sparse this year. The big protest, which had been held on opening day in past years, is planned for Saturday, the final day of the shotgun season.
However, present was a compliment of conservation officers, brought in from other regions of the state, as well as a small assignment of state police, in the driveway used by hunters to bring their harvest to be weighed and biological samples taken.
Earlier in the day, check station technicians at the Flatbrook-Roy WMA said they had not had any bears brought to that station, which is only open the first and last day of the six-day shotgun season.
A state conservation lieutenant at the check station said he had seen some activity in the morning, but expected as the rain developed, activity would cease.
He said there had been no reported incidents involving the hunt.
The weather forecast for much of the northwestern part of New Jersey where bear hunting is allowed, called for rain all day Monday and most of the day Tuesday, ending with snow on Wednesday.
Thursday and Friday are forecast to be sunny, with temperatures below freezing on Thursday and in the mid-30s on Friday. There is a chance of rain or freezing rain again on Saturday.
Among the protesters at Whittingham on Monday was Bill Crain, who has been present, and arrested, on opening day of several past hunts. Crain has spent time in county jail because of his protests.
Anti-hunting groups have made a point of protesting New Jersey’s bear hunts and going to court since the Fish and Game Council reopened a bear hunt in 2003. A second hunt was held in 2005, but the 2006 hunt was stopped by the state Supreme Court which ruled that the state needed to have an approved management plan in place on which the council could then point to as a reason for hunting bears in the northwestern part of the state.
Such a plan was not approved until 2010 when then-Gov. Chris Christie allowed a five-year plan to be signed by the Department of Environmental Protection commissioner.
That plan called for a six-day shotgun bear hunt to be held at the same time as the annual shotgun deer season in early December. An updated plan was signed in 2015 which expanded the bear hunt to a six-day archery hunt in October.
In 2018, Gov. Phil Murphy ordered that all state parks, forests and wildlife management areas, be closed to bear hunting. A lawsuit challenging that order is pending before the state Supreme Court.
Also on Monday, the Pennsylvania Game Commission released preliminary figures for the first parts of its bear hunt, which have already set a state record for a black bear harvest. That state’s hunt continues through Saturday on some of the state’s Wildlife Management Units,
“As of this morning, the 2019 preliminary bear harvest sat at 4,577,”. the commission’s news release said. “The Commonwealth’s previous record bear harvest occurred in 2011, when hunters took 4,350 through a slate of bear seasons.”
This year, the state expanded bear season from 16 days to 32 days, including both archery and gun seasons and included seven Saturdays on which to hunt instead of three Saturdays as in past years.
“The additional days and increased number of bear hunters appear to have made a significant difference. Great weather on peak hunting days also helped,” the release said.