VERNON, NEW JERSEY. At daybreak this morning, the second New Jersey bear hunt in the last 35 years kicked off in Wawayanda State Park in Sussex County, NJ. The first day of the six-day hunt is toted as an attempt controlling the population of black bears regarded as nuisances. The species have made a comeback from the brink of extinction, but are now being forced into areas populated by humans due to the slow creep of suburban sprawl, and human encroachment upon the bear’s natural habitat. Black bears are regarded as nuisances because of their tendency to raid improperly disposed human garbage bags in search of food.

A total of 4,434 hunters registered with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to kill bears this week. The current black bear population in the entire state of New Jersey is estimated by the Division of Fish and Wildlife to be between 1600-3000 animals.The last bear hunt, held in 2003, resulted in the deaths of 328 bears.

As of 2:30 p.m on Monday, the D.E.P. reported a total of 54 bears slaughtered. During the last hunt in 2003, a total of 328 bears were killed over the span of the week.

Police were present at the Wawayanda bear weigh station. Over 25 authorities, including armed policeman, park rangers, and DEP officials, barricaded the weigh station, barring both the media and the public from being able to view the bear corpses. “This is the prime meridian,” stated one officer, waving at a line of orange cones. “You can’t cross it.”

One policeman turned to the officer to his right and asked, “So, how did you get stuck having to work this?”

His colleague responded, “All the guys from my precinct are out there hunting, so I ended up here.”

Animal rights activists from the New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance, Bear Education and Resource Group (BERG), Win Animal Rights (WAR), and Earth First! attempted to show their opposition behind the barricade with signs, but the police enforced a no-signs-in-the-parking-lot gag order. Elaine Makatura, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Protection, claimed that the protestors did not have a permit allowing them to have an organized gathering. The group of activists were made to take homemade posters out of the windows of their parked cars as well.

A group of over fifty activists dressed in bright orange t-shirts with the words "Wounded Bear Rescue" written in black letters across the front. Members of the Wounded Bear Rescue squad set off into the woods as early as 4 a.m., and some had already staked out camping spots. “There are small piles of wood throughout this park,” one activist noted with a grin. “There must have been some mighty strong winds here last night to knock the hunting stands out of the trees like that.”

The mission of the Wounded Bear Rescue unit was to try and provide medical aid to bears who had been shot but not killed. “We could be able to track them with footprints in the snow and from the trail of blood,” said Ken, one of the group’s members. “Our plan is to then contact Animal Control, and get a veterinarian to the scene as soon as possible.”

Most of the bear hunters had prepared the night before, too. Bait piles of bagels covered in honey and maple syrup were placed in the woods, in an attempt to attract and trap hungry bears. When a bear would stop and begin eating, the hunter would be able to shoot the creature from a close distance. Hunters are required to use only shotguns or old-fashioned muzzle-loading rifles.

"Today, for us, is a very sad day,'' said Lynda Smith, president of Bear Education and Resource Group, one of two groups that unsuccessfully sued to delay the hunt. "They're here to kill them, we're here to help them.'' According to Dr. Lynn Rogers, from the Wildlife Research Institute, only 15 black bears have killed humans since 1900, while hunters account for an average of 95 human deaths every year due to hunting accidents.

A rally is planned for Saturday, December 10th in front of the weigh station at Wawayanda State Park.

Win Animal Rights:  http://www.war-online.org
Bear Education and Resource Group:  http://www.savenjbears.com
NJ Fish and Wildlife:  http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/
New Jersey Animal Rights  http://www.nj-ara.org/