Ever since President Roosevelt was called, "Teddy Bear," black bears have always been popular in America. For children teddy bears are soothing helping them to sleep comfortably at night. Native Americans believe bears have a mystical quality. Black bears roam freely in Northwest New Jersey in the counties of Passaic, Morris, Warren and Sussex. Angi Metler, who is Executive Director of the Bear Education Program And Resource Under the Animal Protection League, has a lifelong mission to protect bears in their natural habitat. Friends call Metler, "Angi Bear" since she loves bears so much. She moved to bear county with her husband to be close to the black bears. Metler believes that black bears are beautiful and majestic creatures that help our environment. She said that the scat from the black bears is good for the forests since it acts as a fertilizer and makes plants grow around the woods. She explained that black bears eat harmful insects such as tent caterpillars, ticks and carpenter ants (at times, ant tunnels can put a strain on the tree's water conducting capacity and weaken the tree's structure); these insects destroy trees. According to Metler, humans are the biggest threat to black bears and the way the State of New Jersey handles the bear problem is by having a bear hunt even though the majority of New Jerseyans are opposed to the bear hunt and it does not address nuisance complaints and conflicts. The bear hunt in New Jersey will begin December 9th and end on December 14th lasting six days.
"The bear hunt is organized by the Division of Fish and Wildlife under the guise of bear complaints," Metler said. "Hunters attract bears through baiting by using jelly donuts, marshmallows and chocolate bars and smear them on trees over a period of time. They set up trail cameras near bait piles, then wait and shoot within 300 feet of the bait pile. The bear hunt is a lottery where 10,000 permits are available to hunters. There are more female bears killed during the hunt than male bears. Bears of any age or size can be killed in the hunt."
Metler said that humans can easily solve conflicts by becoming more educated. Metler believes humans are the root cause of complaints. She said that individuals who live near black bear habitats must remove attractants such as birdfeeders, grills, animal food, garden compost and fruit trees during peak bear activity.
"No one was ever seriously harmed or injured by a black bear in the history of New Jersey," she said. "Black bears only come to people's homes to search for food, not to harm people. People should not be fearful of black bears, as they are gentle and timid creatures that will run away if you say boo."
There is scientific proof that hunting black bears does not solve conflicts caused by people Metler said. "When a mother black bear is killed in the hunt, her cubs are forced to fend for themselves. The mother bear teaches them how to thrive in the forests, but without their mother they often get into trouble by foraging on garbage close to homes,” she said.
She also believes that nature can regulate wildlife without human intervention. There is no scientific proof for saying black bears are overpopulated in New Jersey. Well documented scientific studies show bears are a self-regulating species, whose reproduction is tied to food supply and available habitat. Bears that weigh less than 175 pounds are unlikely to give birth she said.
"The black bear hunt is purely political; there is no justification for killing black bears," she said.
Concerned New Jerseyans who want to stop the bear hunt should write to Governor Chris Christie and voice opinions. She said Senator Lesniak's Bear Smart legislation needs to be enacted into law, as it will keep bears out of residential neighborhoods, stop environmentally damaging baiting practices and reduce the bear's fertility rate.
According to Metler, in 1970 the black bear population was completely wiped out in New Jersey due to regulated hunting from 1958-1970. Metler wants her grandchildren and other generations to continue to see their beauty and the mystery that they add to the forests of New Jersey.