New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is considering cutting short the state's six day bear hunt if state wildlife officials recommend it.
The state's first bear hunt in five years returned all the results state Fish and Wildlife officials could hope for during its first two days. The latest report from a DEP spokesman has the count of bagged bears at 263 with a handful more to be counted.
State wildlife officials say the hunt is needed to reduce a black bear population now thought to number about 3,400. At a news conference in East Rutherford on Tuesday, Christie said his decision to allow the bear hunt was science-based, not philosophical.
Christie said he does not personally hunt.
But, protesters have been turned out to try and stop the hunt. One protestor from New York was arrested after refusing to leave a restricted area.
The six-day hunt could bring as many as 6,680 hunters who obtained the required permit into the forests and mountains of northwest New Jersey by sundown on Saturday, although only 5-percent to 7-percent are actually expected to bag a bear.
"It was pretty exciting actually," said Justin Henriksen, 23, of Hackettstown after he brought the bear he shot into the Pequest checkpoint.
"First shot, put him down, no suffering," said Gino Disario, 56. and a lifelong hunter.
"We'll basically just keep the population at the level it is now," Fish and Wildlife Director David Chanda told NBCNewYork.
From near extinction a few decades ago, black bears are estimated to number at least 3,400 in the hunting target zone, and have been spotted in every one of the state's 21 counties. Hunters in the state's seven northwest counties have six days to bag one bear of any age or sex.
Although thousands of hunters signed up, the state appears to be targeting some 300 to 400 bears for elimination and has the right to end the hunt before Saturday.
Hunter Joe Bartnicki, 39, of Hackettstown, bagged a nearly 120-pound yearling.
"I'm gonna actually get a rug made out of him," Bartnicki said. "It's on the way to the butcher; I'm gonna get a lot of hamburger made out of it and some Italian bear roast."
Asked what bear tastes like, Bartnicki said, "It's like pork -- a little juice to it. It's very edible."
Bear advocates tried to stop the hunt by appealing to the Appellate Court Friday and after losing there, to the State Supreme Court on Saturday. They lost on both counts, allowing the hunt to proceed.
"This is a fear hunt," said Debbie Kowalski, a member of the Animal Protection League of New Jersey.
State police turned her away at the Pequest Checkpoint in Oxford when she tried to take her camera over to the weigh station.
Kowalski blamed businesses that leave their dumpsters open or unsecured, and towns for not insisting on bear proof garbage containers for homes.
"Teach people not to put their garbage out, to have bear controlled cans," said Kowalski, who also blamed trash carters that collect as early as 5 in the morning.
NBCNewYork spotted dozens of trash cans Monday morning in Alamuchy, Independence and Liberty Townships that were not 'bear proof' and in fact could be open with a pinkie finger. Many of them were not even closed because there was so much trash in them.
Likewise, a pizza restaurant in Liberty had an open dumpster overflowing with food packaging.
The DEP's Chanda admitted bear proof cans are "not mandated," but argued bear overpopulation would not change with more people using them.
The state argues these hunts are part of a plan to control the bear population. Bear-proof garbage cans and animal education only supplement the effort.
"I think education prorams have helped people be much more tolerant of a black bear in their backyard and they're okay, they enjoy seeing it," said Chanda. "When it starts to break into their home, they're not as comfortable."
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