A New Jersey Administrative Law Judge recently issued her initial ruling in favor of Gov. Phil Murphy who unilaterally closed black bear hunting on state managed land in 2018. The governor’s decision to close state lands had no scientific backing and was only done to fulfill a campaign promise.
Sportsmen’s Alliance, Safari Club International and the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance claimed that the state violated New Jersey law by banning black bear hunting on state-managed lands without scientific justification, but instead in fulfillment of a campaign promise. We were hopeful to receive a positive result but in this case the judge sided with the defendant even when limited scientific data was provided to uphold such an order.
During the court proceedings, the state offered no persuasive data or evidence to support the closure of state lands; the very definition of “arbitrary and capricious,” as well as case law. In fact, the governor and commissioner acted against the recommendations and warnings of the state’s own staff, as well as years of supporting evidence. Even the state’s expert witness acknowledged key points to our argument; at one point during cross-examination he paused for a full minute before admitting that closing state lands might increase bear incidents in adjacent communities.
The closure has upended science-based wildlife management, as the bear hunt was a part of the Comprehensive Black Bear Management Plan (CBBMP) enacted by the state to reduce human-bear conflict. The CBBMP called for a 20 percent annual black bear harvest rate to maintain ecological balance and protect New Jersey citizens. As a result of the state land closure, bear harvest rates have dropped significantly. Predictably, an increase in reports of nuisance bears and human-wildlife conflicts has followed. According to the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Bear Activity Report, from January to September 2019 there were 503 confirmed instances of nuisance bear activity. During the same time period in 2020, there were 811 confirmed instances of nuisance bear activity statewide. This represents a 61 percent incident rate increase in just a single year; without question this major spike in incidents can be attributed to the state land hunting closure and subsequent reduction of harvest rates.
“The Sportsmen’s Alliance is disappointed to see this judgement against science-based wildlife management,” said Evan Heusinkveld, president and CEO of the Sportsmen’s Alliance. “We expect governors and fish and game commissioners to stand by the tenants of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation by protecting science-based management decisions as opposed to following through on campaign promises that have no scientific backing and threaten the safety and well-being of every citizen in New Jersey. When a governor acts to fulfill a campaign promise as he did here, judicial appointments need to step in and correct the matter.”
About the Sportsmen’s Alliance: The Sportsmen’s Alliance protects and defends America’s wildlife conservation programs and the pursuits – hunting, fishing and trapping – that generate the money to pay for them. The Sportsmen’s Alliance was specifically created to protect the outdoor heritage from animal-rights activists and organizations seeking to end those pursuits and undermine the nation’s conservation model. The Alliance partners with other organizations, such as SCI and NJOA, to provide a unified and formidable legal front, and has done so in New Jersey for bears many times, as well as in all 50 states, the courts and at the ballot box. To join the Alliance click here, or to donate to the Sportsmen’s Legal Defense Fund click here. For media inquiries, contact Brian Lynn at firstname.lastname@example.org. For members wishing to comment on how the closure of state lands to bear hunters impacts them, please email email@example.com.