Battle of the Bruins: NJ DEP Defends Its Bear Count Numbers

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    NBCNewYork
    A couple of bears play with a wheel barrow.

    A day after an obscure Rutgers Professor accused the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection of  "cooking its books" on the number of bear complaints in the Garden State, top officials of the agency said he got it all wrong.

    "If anything we're more accurate in our reporting," said David Chanda, Director of the DEP's Division of Fish and Wildlife.

    On Monday, Professor Ed Tavss showed NBCNewYork all of the bear complaint reports he had obtained via an Open Public Records Act request for the years 2007 and 2008.

    Although there had been a relatively steady increase in the state's bear population (minus the years after the bear hunts of 2003 and 2005), the years 2008 and 2009 showed a dramatic jump in nuisance bear complaints.

    Tavss said that after pouring over the actual complaints to the DEP he determined there were hundreds of cases of double counting, in which calls directly to Fish and Wildlife and the same call to the DEP's Command Center would be counted as two different bear complaints. That would have inflated the numbers lead Fish and Wildlife to recommend this year's bear hunt that is due to begin on December 6th.

    "We're taking calls from every county in the state," said Patrick Carr, the DEP's Chief Biologist in explaining why the number of nuisance bear complaints has been growing.

    Nonetheless, Tavss' data shows a doubling of complaints from 2007 to 2008 (and 2009), after years of overall decline.

    Chanda and Carr maintain that is a reflection of the growing awareness of nuisance bears across the state, and
    Chandra notes "Out information is peer reviewed at seven universities."

    However, he also said that none of them get the raw data that Professor Tavss poured over for several months.

    Nonetheless, Chanda said there is no duplication of reports in the final numbers for the past two years and invited Tavss to meet with his staff.

    "We'll be more than happy to look them over," spokesman Larry Ragonese said of the data Tavss crunched.

    Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY