TOP SECRET ANIMAL ATTACK FILES
from The New York Times
Great Books about ANIMAL ATTACKS:
Unloads for Bear
After Protests About Hunt
By ROBERT HANLEY
Saturday, September 9, 2000
New Jersey's first bear hunt in 30 years appeared doomed yesterday, 10 days before its planned start, after Gov. Christine Todd Whitman asked the state's Fish and Game Council to cancel it.
At the same time, she put into place a new state policy on bear control that she called wiser and safer than a general hunt. The new policy would allow trained municipal police officers to shoot bears that break into houses, kill livestock, attack pets or threaten people.
"I believe that our bear management strategy will provide a higher degree of overall safety," she said in a statement accompanying a letter to the council, "than the proposed random hunt targeted at 175 bears of all ages."
Mrs. Whitman had been an early supporter of the hunt, citing public safety. But a coalition opposed to hunting has mounted a steadily growing campaign since May, prompting Mrs. Whitman to retreat. "I believe that the real concerns of so many citizens in this state must be given consideration," she said in the letter to the council, dated yesterday.
Over the last four months, opponents of the hunt have flooded her offices with letters and petitions, prompted the State Senate to pass a bill prohibiting hunting, and persuaded 25 towns, including several in bear terrain in the state's wooded northwest, to pass resolutions seeking cancellation.
Members of the coalition said they were elated.
"We are thrilled the governor has finally paid attention to the people who live with the bears," said Lynda Smith, head of an ad hoc organization, the Bear Education and Resource Group, that has many members in northwestern New Jersey.
Jeff Tittel, executive director of the Sierra Club of New Jersey, which is another member of the coalition, said that many people opposed the hunt because they viewed it as a sign that the state's woodlands were being suburbanized.
"If we can save the black bears, we can save what we love about the uniqueness and the beauty of the area," he said.
Mr. Tittel, Ms. Smith and other opponents said they supported the governor's new plan to kill aggressive, threatening animals. "We never had anything against killing bears that are really a true problem," said Barbara Dyer, a regional program coordinator of the Humane Society of the United States. "We certainly don't want anyone to get hurt by a bear."
Mrs. Whitman's office released her letter to the council while she was attending a luncheon in Manhattan honoring China's president, Jiang Zemin, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Afterward, as diplomats meandered through the lobby, the governor held a news conference on bears.
She said that bears in the state had been nearly extinct in the early 1970's, but that the population had recovered to about 1,000. Some bears, she said, were becoming more and more accustomed to the growing number of people in the northwestern towns.
"People tend to think of them as `Smokey the Bear,' " Mrs. Whitman said. "We've all had a teddy bear. People forget these are dangerous animals. The interaction and consequences can be fatal. We have to go after bears starting to feel at ease being around humans."
Mrs. Whitman said she could not unilaterally suspend the hunt because the Fish and Game Council was an independent agency empowered to write the state's hunting rules. But she and aides in Trenton said they believed that the council would grant her request. If it does not, she said, she will ask the state's attorney general, John J. Farmer, to explore ways to get a court order blocking the hunt.
The council is scheduled to meet Tuesday night and will take up the governor's request, state officials said. In June, when the hunt opponents' campaign was gathering momentum, the governor urged the council to reduce the number of bears to be killed this fall to 175 from 350, and the council unanimously approved her request.
The state's Division of Fish and Wildlife proposed the hunt because the number of complaints had increased to 1,659 in 1999 from 285 in 1995. Among the reported problems were 29 bears breaking into homes, up from 3 in 1995, and 28 bears rummaging around campgrounds and parks, up from 5 in 1995. Attacks on livestock and pets also increased sharply in the last half of the 1990's. No attacks on people have been reported.
Under Mrs. Whitman's new policy, the state will step up its actions against problem bears. Those that routinely meander through backyards or otherwise pose a nuisance will be tranquilized, tagged and removed to thick woodlands. If they return to populated areas, they will be killed.
Mrs. Whitman's letter offered no specifics about money for additional wildlife agents or for educational seminars for police officers on the best ways to kill aggressive bears. "That will be worked on in short order," said Amy Collings, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the wildlife division.
Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company