The past two years have seen an increase in black bear populations, and as a result, there has been human-bear conflict from coast to coast. Black bears are not the plush teddy bears anti-hunters and animal rights groups would have you believe. With several recent and serious attacks to people in populated areas, states must rethink their black bear management strategies and their adoption of science- based management of bears, including regulated hunting as the only viable means of black bear population control. Safari Club International (SCI), as the leader in defending the freedom to hunt and promoting wildlife conservation worldwide, is working across the country to advocate for active management of black bear populations. This is seriously needed as bear attacks become more frequent.
This October in Connecticut, a 10-year- old boy was attacked by a black bear in his grandparents’ backyard. The bear reportedly emerged from the trees, grabbed the boy with its mouth, and started dragging him by the leg back towards the woods. The bear was scared off by the boy’s family members, and he let go of the boy, but the bear soon returned. The police and wildlife law enforcement arrived soon thereafter and shot the bear. Based on the reports, this was clearly a predatory attack, and thankfully, the child was not fatally wounded, but the bear inflicted a puncture to his thigh, bites on his foot and ankle, and claw marks to his back.
Also this October in Washington State, a woman was taking her dog out near a park where a black bear mauled her. She too survived but had to be hospitalized due to her injuries. This bear was also euthanized.
In New Jersey in 2020, an 82-year-old man went out to walk his dog and returned to find a bear in his garage. The bear swiped at him, cutting his arm and face and scratching his chest. He was taken to the hospital and received 30 stitches on his face. Later, the bear was located and put down.
And in May 2022, a woman was attacked by a black bear in Lafayette Township, New Jersey as she walked down her lane to check her mail. The bear ran off after a neighbor honked a car horn to startle it. The woman suffered non-life-threatening injuries to her arm and back, and the bear was reportedly not able to be located by conservation law enforcement.
One thing these recent incidents share is that they did not take place in remote areas or on an outdoor adventure. They took place in towns and backyards, and the bears involved clearly had no fear of the people living there. All four victims are lucky to be alive.
In all three states, hunting of bears is prohibited or limited. Despite a growing black bear population, the Connecticut legislature has repeatedly refused to authorize a hunting season. This year, Washington State shut down its annual spring bear hunt. Since 2018, the Governor of New Jersey has been chipping away at the bear hunt, ultimately shutting it down in 2021. While hunting is not the only solution to preventing human-wildlife conflict, it is the only reliable means to control a growing bear population. Hunting plays a critical role in human-bear conflict mitigation by controlling a growing population and range expansion. It also provides revenues to state wildlife agencies for conservation, helps achieve or maintain species population objectives, and helps keep bears wild and wary of humans. As black bear populations continue to expand, bears move into more people-populated areas and some eat human-sourced food and become less wild. While human-bear conflicts may increase for a number of reasons, it cannot be disputed that more bears means range expansion, and where people are already on the landscape, increased conflicts are a natural result.
State wildlife agencies are tasked with both management of wildlife and habitat and efforts to minimize conflicts. Instead of shutting down hunting, states facing increased human-bear conflicts should be implementing regulated and specific black bear hunting seasons. This conclusion is supported by a study published in 2017 titled “Recreational Harvest and Incident-Response Management Reduce Human- Carnivore Conflicts in an Anthropogenic Landscape.” The study looked at bear populations, incidents, and mitigation strategies in New Jersey. While the predominant cause of bear interactions is attraction to human food, the authors found that there is no way to eliminate this attraction or enact bear-proof containers at every home and building. Rather, the study concludes that nuisance reports decreased with the installment of a yearly harvest and that “the well-regulated harvest of carefully monitored black bear populations represents a pragmatic approach to achieve population objectives. Furthermore, the integration of harvest and incident- response management (both lethal and non-lethal practices) with educational programs aimed at reducing anthropogenic attractants can result in subsequent reductions in problem behaviors reported.” Essentially, if humans and bears are to successfully coexist, hunting must be a part of the picture.
Unfortunately, public opinion and emotionally driven narratives often win out over sound scientific evidence. Many people “don’t like” the idea of hunting bears, but they do not present viable alternative management options. This stance is illogical for many reasons, but most of all because once a bear attacks a person, it is immediately euthanized or shot once it is located. Rather than simply having a strong bear management plan that involves hunting and promotes healthy population levels, anti-hunting advocates would rather bears first hurt people and then be forced to be euthanized.
Conflict mitigation is a necessary part of bear management in all states, and it is especially necessary where bears and humans share the landscape. However, conflict mitigation can be more effective when hunting is used to help states achieve both bear population management objectives and keep bears in appropriate habitat.
SCI has been leading the charge across the country, and in Connecticut, New Jersey, and Washington in particular, fighting for science-based management and hunter-led conservation. While the emotional narrative continues to draw attention, many groups are realizing the need for hunting seasons to reduce bear attacks on citizens.
Since 2018, SCI has been active in Connecticut supporting hunting as a management tool to control the black bear population. SCI provided testimony in support of House Bill 5358, which would have opened a bear season. Similar bills have been introduced every year since to open the season one way or another, but all have been voted down despite support from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). Since the legislature will not act, DEEP’s hands are tied, and they must try to mitigate the growing black bear population with few tools. With the recent frightening attack on the 10-year-old boy, calls to open the season are likely to intensify, and SCI is ready to work in the state to promote responsible black bear conservation.
In New Jersey, a black bear season opened in 2003 and faced controversy, but it proved to be an effective management tool in reducing the bear population and human-bear conflicts from 2014 to 2018. Last year, the bear management policy, which relied on a hunting season, expired with no action by the Governor or his appointed Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection to adopt the replacement policy proffered by the Fish and Game Council. Without a management policy, the Council is unable to authorize a black bear hunt. Bear incidents, which include home entries, domestic animal deaths, agriculture and property damage, dangerous vehicle strikes, and direct attacks to humans have been significantly increasing, as they did the last time the season was closed. The season was closed from 2005 to 2009 and resulted in a doubling of both the bear population and bear incidents in the state. SCI has also provided testimony in New Jersey in support of a bear hunt and sent out an alert from our Hunter Advocacy Action Center (HAAC) for advocates to contact the Governor. This is a continuing issue and one which the Governor cannot ignore much longer.
Finally, SCI has been active in the Washington spring bear hunt issue. SCI has submitted several comments in support of a spring bear season and also sent out several HAAC alerts. Until 2022, Washington held a spring bear hunt, but anti-hunting sentiment on the State Wildlife Commission led to the closure of that hunt in 2022 and 2023. The Commission’s actions have essentially denied hunters two seasons of spring bear hunting, despite scientific validity, direct support from the state agency, and hundreds of letters in support. The Commission has now undertaken a process to work on the overall spring bear policy, and SCI continues to engage in this developing issue.
Bears and other predators continue to be lightning rods for the anti-hunting community, but their emotional arguments ignore the science and the very real risk that arises when bears move into human-dominated landscapes due to unmanaged population growth. SCI will always support science-based management and promote the role of hunting in conservation as we stand on the frontlines First for Hunters. To receive updates on these issues and get involved, sign up for the HAAC today at https://safariclub.org/haac/.
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