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New Jersey bear sightings increase, NJ votes to expand hunting season

A black bear spotting in Hope, New Jersey.

A black bear spotting in Hope, New Jersey. Photo Credit: FLICKR/lifeinverted

New Jersey, the U.S. state most densely populated by humans, is also thick with black bears, and wildlife officials voted Tuesday to expand the hunting season after the state's first recorded fatal attack.

New Jersey's northwest corner, less than 60 miles (96 km) from New York City, is home to one of the nation's highest concentrations of black bears, according to Larry Hajna, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

An annual bear hunt lasting six days in December was launched in 2010, when 3,600 bears were counted in the area. But even after five years of culling, the New Jersey bear population has surged back to 3,600, Hajna said.

The Department of Environmental Protection's Fish and Game Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a recommendation by environmental officials to expand the geographic area of the hunting zones, Hajna said.

The council also added an October hunt beginning in 2016, with the December hunting season often hampered by bad weather and less animal activity as the bears prepare to hibernate. Hunters will be allowed to kill one bear in each of the two hunting seasons, Hajna said.

Animal advocates, including the Animal Protection League of New Jersey, opposed the plan and said they will continue to protest.

"Even though the bear policy contains certain non-lethal provisions, it was not enough. As long as you have these bear attractants out in suburban neighborhoods, you're going to attract bears," said Doris Lin, vice president of legal affairs for the league.

Bear sightings in the region have spiked. A Rutgers University student who was hiking in West Milford, New Jersey, was fatally mauled last September, and a series of bears have been shot dead after entering area homes.

Last month, a homeowner responding to a loud noise found a 200-pound (91-kg) bear munching a bag of cat food in the family room of a West Milford residence. Police shot the animal dead.

"We really need to increase the number of bears harvested so that we see a reduction in incidents," Hajna said. "It's better for the bears."


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