A historic bear hunt

| 09 Mar 2012 | 11:25

    New Jersey’s 2011 black bear hunt will have come and gone by the time you read this. Hours before Dirt went to press, a hunter brought the first bear into the weigh station in Franklin County. In a way, the six-day open season will have been nothing new: the state held hunts in 2003, 2005, and 2010, killing a total of over 1,200 bears. But this year’s hunt will go down in history as the first time in 40 years that New Jersey sanctioned a bear hunt two years in a row.

    Bears are New Jersey natives, but by the sixties, hunting had brought them to the verge of extinction in the area. When bear hunting ceased in 1971, the population began to rebound — slowly at first.

    “I grew up in Sussex County in the eighties,” said Vernon police officer Sean Fitzgerald (whom Dirt interviewed about his mountain lion sighting in 2006), “and if somebody said they saw a bear, I’d probably say, ‘You’re crazy. There are no bears here.’”

    Now, pictures of pug-nosed cubs, swimming or sleeping or climbing trees, appear in local newspapers as regularly as boy scouts. The population has doubled since 2005. Pre-hunt, there were about 3,400 bears in New Jersey, and they’ve been spotted in every county in the state.

    Fitzgerald, who since his sighting has become the unofficial mountain lion expert on the police force, sees a parallel – separated by a few decades – between the bear’s repopulation of New Jersey and what’s happening with mountain lions today.