The last of New Jersey's five state-sponsored bear hunts began Monday, as wildlife officials and opponents of the hunt sparred over whether the hunt has been effective and should be renewed.
Hunters faced crisp, clear weather and no problems were reported, Department of Environmental Protection Department spokesman Larry Ragonese said.
Marc Beardslee of Vernon was the first to arrive at a state science station with a female bear that he had killed, Ragonese said.
Ragonese said 7,800 permits were issued to about 6,000 hunters this season.
While the overall numbers of bears in the state has decreased since the state instituted the hunt in 2010, some point to the mauling death of Rutgers University student Darsh Patel in September as evidence that there is too much focus on killing the animals and not enough on educating the public.
About 1,600 bears have been killed in the last four hunts, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. In 2010, there were 3,400 bears living north of Interstate 80, roughly in the upper one-eighth of the state, according to a state Fish and Game Council report that supported the resumption of the bear hunt, in part to ensure public safety. The DEP estimates there are about 2,500 bears in that area now.
Only 251 bears were killed last year, a nearly 60 percent drop from the 592 killed in 2010. Freezing rain and bad weather hampered hunters on the first day of the hunt.
The number of reports of aggressive bears has dropped since the hunt resumed in 2010, but some incidents have risen sharply this year.
Reports of Category 1 bears, defined as bruins that are aggressive and a danger to humans or livestock, fell from 235 in 2010 to 129 in 2013. Yet while home entries and attempted entries fell from 90 in 2010 to 33 last year, they have risen to 44 through late November. In addition, reports of bears killing livestock rose from 21 to 35 between 2012 and 2013.
Though the hunt is focused on New Jersey's western and northern counties, state wildlife officials say bears have been spotted in all 21 counties.