New Jersey Opens First Bear Hunt in 33 Years Tuesday, December 09, 2003 VERNON, N.J. Slogging through a foot of snow left by a weekend blizzard, hunters ventured into the woods in New Jersey's (search) first bear hunt (search) in 33 years, prompted by a rising number of complaints about the animals breaking into suburban homes and raiding trash cans. About two dozen protesters rallied near a weigh station at Wawayanda State Park (search), chanting, "Stop the slaughter, save the bears." They took to the woods with video cameras to monitor the hunt, which went ahead despite a number of legal challenges. Hunters had bagged 61 bears by evening, the largest weighing 498 pounds, the state Department of Environmental Protection said. The hunt was held to reduce a bear population that has swelled across northwestern New Jersey. Bears have broken into 58 homes in New Jersey this year, according to complaints compiled by the state wildlife agency. Fifty bears have been hit by vehicles. Bears have also killed livestock and bloodied a few people. A hiker was knocked down by a bear in Wawayanda Park in August. The woman escaped with minor injuries. And a 150-pound bear mauled a West Milford homeowner in May after the man rushed to the aid of his dog. Black bears have killed eight people over the past three years in North America, but none in New Jersey. Officials hope the hunt will reduce the state's estimated 3,200 bears by about 500. They plan to monitor the daily kill and determine if the hunt should last the full six days scheduled. Harry McDole, 63, of Sussex Borough bagged what conservation officers said was the first bear of the season just before 8 a.m., a 160-pound female. McDole said he had killed three bears in Canada on previous hunting trips. "I've waited 33 years to shoot one in New Jersey. This is the best one because I got it in Jersey," he said. He said he planned to have "a rug or something" made from the pelt and eat the meat. With about a foot of snow on the ground and the temperature hovering around 20 degrees, conditions were good for tracking but difficult for moving around. Among the protesters at Wawayanda was Janice Wrubel of Nutley, wearing a bear mask. She said the state has not aggressively pursued alternatives to the hunt, such as sterilization. Lynda Smith, a West Milford resident and director of the Bear Education and Resource Group, said her group has tried to teach northwestern New Jersey residents how to avoid close encounters with bears by keeping garbage can lids on tight and not leaving pet food outside. "I dreaded this day. I hoped it would never come. I fought against this day for 10 years," Smith said. "One week of bear hunting, nothing's going to be solved. Come spring the bears will still be eating our garbage and still be walking through our back yards." For the hunt, the state opened up 1 million acres and issued just over 5,200 permits to hunters. Bears were hunted annually in New Jersey from 1958 to 1970. Hunting was suspended when their numbers dwindled to about 100. On Friday, a federal judge, responding to a complaint filed by environmentalists, closed the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area to hunters. Three other legal actions -- two opposing the hunt and one seeking to allow youths ages 10 to 15 to participate in it -- were denied Friday, and the New Jersey Supreme Court refused to intervene. link This seems like poor wildlife management.