On the eve of New Jersey's first bear hunt in five years, bear advocates are citing new evidence that the hunt is not only unnecessary, but that the NJ DEP 'cooked the numbers' to justify the hunt.
Rutgers Chemistry Professor Ed Tavss, who said he has some experience with statistics, looked at the state's numbers, thought they looked suspicious, and then examined every bear nuisance complaint for 2007, and then 2009.
"The purpose of the hunt is the belief, the false belief, that the complaints were skyrocketing," Tavss said in an exclusive interview with NBC New York, and then added "They are not skyrocketing at all."
Tavss wondered why for 8 years, complaints went down and then spiked in 2008 and 2009, according to the state DEP numbers.
So he looked at all 4,700 complaints(some for the baseline year of 2007, and most for the 'spike' year of 2009) obtained through an OPRA request, and found hundreds of duplications for last year.
"They would be the same complainant, It would be the same date, it would be the same reference number, everything would be the same," said Tavss of the multiple duplications he found for the year 2009.
He noted that some complaints would go directly to Fish & Wildlife, some to the DEP Command Center, and some to local police departments(where additionally, the state is also registering complaints from 21 departments, up from just 4 in 2007--another factor that Tavss said resulted in an 'apples and oranges' comparison).
So he took out the duplications.
"When you remove these errors, instead of spiking, the complaints continued to go down significantly, scientifically significantly," Tavss reported.
No DEP official was available on the Columbus Day holiday to react.
But Tavss said the continuing downward trend in nuisance complaints that he found when he 'fixed' the state's numbers is proof to him that garbage control is working in New Jersey's primary bear country.
West Milford is a kind of Ground Zero for that, and at the home of Craig and Colleen Czeczuga has had its share of bears wandering through the front and back yards.
"We deal with it, I don't see it as a nuisance," said Craig Czeczuga, who was taking out the trash in his bear proof garbage can, and hasn't seen any particular spike in nuisance activity even as the state's bear population has been growing.
But the Czeczuga's have two young children, Ashley, 4 and Ryan, 2 and they both feel the bear hunt, set for December 6-11, should go on.
"I'm a little nervous to let them(Ashley and Ryan) go play outside in the backyard because bears can wander into the backyard," Colleen Czeczuga said.
But bear advocates have already filed one legal action to try to stop the hunt, and plan on doing another soon.