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Op Ed: The Bear Hunt Is Needed


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The following was published in the December 7, 2003 Daily Record of Morris County. Clipping of the actual article

After a season of bear attacks so frequent and frightening that the need to thin the bear population became obvious even to politicians usually opposed to hunting, we are now instructed by a group trying to stop the hunt that “bears are the dolphins of the woodlands.”

Apparently the bears don’t know this yet, because they’ve been acting more like sharks lately.

“You have a greater chance of winning the lottery than being killed by a black bear, and you are 374 times more likely to be killed by lightning,” reassuringly pronounces the group’s anti-bear hunt website ( “Their timid nature gives serenity to the highlands.”

Try telling that to the parents of Ester Schwimmer, the 5-month old infant who was yanked head first from her stroller and horribly mauled to death by a “dolphin of the woodlands” trying to feed just a few miles north of New Jersey in August, 2002 in Fallsburg, N.Y.

Try telling it to the hospitalized victims of this year’s record number of widely publicized New Jersey bear attacks. “Congratulations. You’ve won the lottery.”

To the Bear Education and Resource Group (BEAR), little Ester’s tragic death is not a wake-up call, but rather another example of why a bear hunt isn’t needed at all. Ever. Anywhere. Since the killing “took place in [a state] that permits bear hunting,” declares the group’s website triumphantly, it “undermines the argument that a bear hunt would prevent such tragedies.”

That’s like saying that because vaccinations don’t stop every disease outbreak, we shouldn’t bother vaccinating anyone. That’s ludicrous.

Outraged by the scheduling of a limited hunt as a public safety measure, extremist groups like BEAR and New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance (NJARA) are working frantically to stop the hunt at all costs. Apparently, they will do or say anything to perpetuate the myths that black bear are universally docile, that state wildlife officials invent statistics to justify trophy hunting, that there is no bear overpopulation problem, and that trash management is an effective solution.

In the months since the hunt was scheduled in response to a dramatic rise in the number of unprovoked bear attacks, BEAR and NJARA have mounted a relentless campaign to pressure Governor McGreevey to intercede. Governor McGreevey opposes the hunt in principle but acknowledges the serious public safety concerns raised by the attacks and accordingly has not asked wildlife officials to cancel the hunt as did Governor Whitman in 2000.

The campaign, which includes repetitive phone calling and letter-writing to the Governor, could be characterized as one of harassment. “Do it again…do it daily,” advocates the NJARA website ( in response to the comment “But I already wrote to McGreevey.” Other NJARA tactics include sending the Governor stuffed toy bears, children’s drawings, and photos of family members holding anti-bear hunt signs.

But not all anti-hunt activism is so innocent. Recently, State Fish & Wildlife vehicles have been vandalized while afield, and official property stolen or tampered with. While no one knows who is responsible for these acts of sabotage, it is noteworthy that NJARA’s website features a link to “civil disobedience” training material offering advice to “anyone or any group considering acts of property alteration.”

What groups like BEAR and NJARA never do is squarely admit what is obvious to anyone who reads the papers: that New Jersey bears are attacking humans with increasing frequency and violence, and the attacks need to be stopped. It’s not just a problem here, but part of a general trend noted by recognized experts like Professor Stephen Herrero of the University of Calgary, Canada.

According to Herrero, two-thirds of all fatal black bear attacks occurring during the last 100 years happened within approximately the past 30 years, and people were treated as prey in 90 percent of those attacks. In a black bear attack lawsuit brought by a teen girl disfigured for life, Herrero was called as an expert and admitted the incorrectness of his prior conclusion, published in a 1985 book, that black bear are essentially benevolent. “I have learned since the publication of the book that there is more involvement in serious injuries by black bears than I knew of at the time that I wrote the book,” stated Herrero under oath.

By pretending that this trend doesn’t exist or represent a public safety threat, and by posing phantom solutions, groups like BEAR and NJARA reveal a militant obsession with wildlife, and a willingness to tolerate human injury and death rather than harm a single bear.

While there may be a place in society for this kind of view, the policy-making arena is not one of them. Our love for even dangerous wild animals should not blind us to the need to deal with them when they pose a genuine threat to life and limb. People come first.

—Scott L. Bach