Be Nice to Bears, Don't Hunt Them, Animal Advocacy Group Says

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:21 PM EDT

( - "As bears shake off their winter hibernation and search for food, The Fund for Animals is offering tips for people to avoid conflicts with bears," the group said in a press release.

Describing black bears as "timid" animals that are "not usually aggressive toward humans," The Fund for Animals said people are more likely to be killed by bee stings, dog bites, lightning -- or hunting accidents.

"People assume hunting bears is the answer, but recreational hunting does not target individual problem bears or eliminate the sources of food that attract bears and create problems," said Fund President Michael Markarian.

"Trying to reduce bear problems by a general hunt is like trying to reduce crime by shooting into a crowded room," Markarian added.

New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection and the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife apparently disagree, however.

In a 2004 status report on New Jersey's black bear population, state officials said, "Hunting is a legitimate and effective means to control the increasing population of bears, thereby reducing associated problems (vehicle collisions, home entries, livestock kills, pet kills and property damage) in a cost-effective manner.

In the 2003 hunting season, the report said, 5,450 hunters participated in New Jersey's black bear hunt, harvesting 328 bears -- in line with state biologists' expectations. The hunter success rate was 6%, within the 5 to 7.5% predicted, the report noted.

Biologists said New Jersey's bear population, described as "extremely productive with a high survival rate," could withstand a harvest rate up to 25%. The estimated 2003 bear harvest rate was 19 percent, the report said.

The report also noted that the bear hunt, contrary to some predictions, did not create trespass or other safety problems.

"The hunt successfully established that hunters could safely harvest bears in a controlled manner," the report said.

Before the hunt took place, seven lawsuits attempting to block it were filed, all of them unsuccessful.

The Fund for Animals' tips for avoiding human-bear "conflicts" include using bear-proof trashcans; cleaning barbecue grills after each use; removing bird feeders, and feeding pets inside.

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