State wildlife officials declared NJ’s first black bear hunt in five years a success with 562 bruins tagged during the six-day hunt that ended Saturday. Despite the fact the hunt was deemed necessary to stabilize the state’s 3,400-strong bear population and reduce run-ins with humans in the nation’s most densly populated state, those opposed to the hunt, and the hunters, got their final jabs in with a protest across the street from the bear check station on the final day of the hunt. The leader, Angi Letler, yelled through her bullhorn: “Don’t approach the hunters for your own safety. They are dangerous and violent killers,” according to a story on NJHerald.com.
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_On the final day of the state’s first black bear hunt in five years, wildlife officials declared the record-breaking season a success while protesters heckled hunters and vowed to fight plans for next year’s.
An estimated 562 bears were killed during the six-day hunt as of 5 p.m. Saturday, the most ever recorded, said state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Ragonese. The final tally would not be known until Sunday this morning, he said.
_”It’s been a great success,” Ragonese said at the bear check station in Whittingham Wildlife Management Area near Newton. “Knowing that hundreds of cubs will be born this winter, we probably managed to stabilize or slightly reduce the population.”
Wildlife officials said the hunt was necessary to stabilize the state’s population of 3,400 bears and reduce adverse human run-ins.
Across the street from the station, about 150 animal-rights activists gathered in a cordoned-off area. They held protest signs, screamed into bullhorns and called passing hunters “cowards,” “sociopaths” and “killers.”
“Certainly this is no longer a hunt, it’s a massacre,” said protester Ted Teodoro, a librarian.
Critics of the hunt say it was not needed and cruel compared with non-lethal approaches. They argue that state officials should instead educate the public about how to reduce human-bear incidents. And on Saturday, they promised continued pressure on lawmakers to kill next year’s hunt.
“We’ve just begun, and the backlash will be severe,” said protest organizer Angi Metler, the executive director of the Animal Protection League of New Jersey. “The people who didn’t help us with the bears this year, we are going to make sure they don’t get back in office. We outnumber the hunters.”
Ragonese said protesters were unfairly targeting bear hunters. “It seems like bears have become ‘Disney-fied’ – that, somehow, they’re not wild animals.” He said the DEP commissioner would review results of the hunt in the coming months before making any decision about next year’s hunt. But he noted the state’s Comprehensive Black Bear Management Plan currently calls for a hunt.
“We don’t have to have a hunt, but unless something dramatic happens we’ll likely have one,” he said. “Because the number of bears killed fell into the range we had planned, it will not substantially reduce the numbers next year.”
State officials previously said they expected between 500 and 700 bears would be killed.
The handful of hunters who hauled dead black bears to the Vernon station Saturday afternoon said they tried to ignore the protests.
“Everybody is entitled to their opinion,” said Keith Veerheck of Montague while looking over the gutted 271-pound bear he had killed with a .50 caliber muzzleloader rifle. The life-long hunter said that there are “too many bears in Montague.”_