Recent Ridgewood Ridgewood School Bear , sound a sleep after tranquilized
New Jersey bear hunt fueled by emotion over mauling death
By Frank McGurty
WEST MILFORD, N.J. (Reuters) – New Jersey’s annual black bear hunt is stirring up even more emotion than usual this year after the mauling of a student by a 300-pound male bruin and controversy over how much humans may be responsible for the fatal encounter.
For opponents of the six-day hunt that starts Monday, the September death of Darsh Patel could not have come at a worse time, since the state is considering expanding hunting as part of a new five-year bear management plan.
Hunters say the mauling of the 22-year-old Rutgers University student was an extreme consequence of allowing black bears to encroach on populated areas by failing to cull their numbers.
“Animal rights activists have been calling bears ‘the dolphins of the forest’ … but things like this can happen,” said New Jersey Outdoor Alliance Chairman Anthony Mauro.
“I think that is why the attack may have been good, to help sober up people a little bit,” he said.
The attack on Patel while he was hiking in New Jersey’s Apshawa Preserve, some 30 miles west of New York’s bustling Times Square, marked the first fatal mauling ever recorded in the state. It came during a year when sightings and complaints about bears have jumped, despite their reduced numbers, in the northwest corner of New Jersey.
The state determined that the mauling was a rare case of predatory behavior by a male black bear, which, unlike the more aggressive grizzly of the western U.S. states, tends to be shy and avoid conflict with humans.
In North America, only 63 people have been reported killed in black bear attacks from 1900 to 2009, according to a study led by University of Calgary professor Stephen Herrero.
Opponents say bears in New Jersey have gravitated to populated areas in part because hunters are allowed to use bait, conditioning the animals to seek out garbage, barbecue grills and even kitchen pantries.
At the same time, there are no state requirements that New Jersey residents use bear-resistant garbage containers.
“Hunting does not solve any problems; it creates new ones,” said Susan Russell, wildlife policy director at the Animal Protection League. “Residents and public safety are far better served by removing attractants and learning how to behave in the presence of bears.”