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Letter to the Editor

January 23, 2009

Hunting bears doesn't solve the problem



To the editor:

Pro-hunting "outdoor" writers from New York and Pennsylvania have penned columns stating that New Jersey black bears must be hunted as a matter of safety because there are too many and this increases the chance of someone being injured by one of them. It is insisted the bears must be shot because when "a child is harmed it will be too late."

As a citizen of this state, I did some research on the subject and uncovered a few interesting facts: Hunting has not lowered Pennsylvania's black bear population. The opposite has happened: The numbers have steadily risen. So have visits by bears into urban areas, emptying bird feeders and garbage cans.

Despite Pennsylvania's hunting season, which kills 3,000 bears per year, there have been three incidents in Hickory Run State Park where people were bitten or scratched by bears within the past two years. Food left in camping tents attracted them. Clearly, hunting did not prevent those encounters.

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The Pennsylvania Game Commission has claimed credit for the climb in the bear population. It was stated biologists had studied the habits of bears and made chances in the forests. This message was posted on billboards a while back. A newspaper article I read said the main reason behind the growth of the bears' numbers was the increased planting of beech trees by the state forestry department.

If avoiding problems between bears and humans is truly a concern, why is there not a lot more being done to secure garbage in forests and near private homes? I have visited several state parks in Pennsylvania and found overflowing, open dumpsters and trash cans. Access to discarded food gives bears additional weight and results in more cubs.

If a rise in the number of black bears means more conflicts and potential injuries to people, why were the state's game commission and forestry department allowed to take measures to increase the bears' population without the knowledge or consent of the citizens? Why were they not given a voice in the decision-making?

Recently, the New Jersey- based Bear Education and Resource Group won a civil suit against the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. The suit claimed the division lied about the risks posed by black bears. It also supported the authority of the D.E.P. commissioner, Lisa Jackson, to prohibit bear hunting, as well as to use nonlethal methods. It is time for other states to take similar steps.

Jean Mollack
Phillipsburg, N.J.

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