While Diane was on the phone talking fishing yesterday morning with a friend from a Massachusetts suburb, his wife was heard yelling in the background, “Tom, Tom, there’s big bear on the deck knocking things over!”
So, the conversation was cut short. As it turned out, nobody got hurt. We heard later that some loud yelling and an air rifle discharge scared the bear off. Some bird feeders and other backyard accessories took a heavy hit, however.
This same week, a New Jersey woman was mauled by a 200-pound black bear in Sussex County. She survived. The bear had to be euthanized, which is standard practice by wildlife biologists when a bear has a close and dangerous encounter with a human.
In some states, especially Massachusetts and New Jersey, bear numbers are increasing exponentially, so bear-human conflicts are likely to increase. Sooner or later, more serious encounters are likely as bear populations burgeon and bears become increasingly conditioned to humans.
According to New Jersey wildlife officials, the bear population in Sussex County has increased nearly 70 percent in one year! Residents there said that the “bear population has exploded since the state ended the annual bear hunt.”
Predictably, in New Jersey wildlife officials once again tell us in one breath not to worry, that bear assaults on people are “exceedingly rare” and in the other breath that any direct encounter “with such a huge and powerful animal can be fatal.”
Bear numbers in Massachusetts are also exploding, with bear complaints increasing in suburban areas of the state. The Bay State does have a limited open season on black bears, but the baiting of bears was banned a few years ago. As was explained numerous times during Maine’s two bear referendums, which sought to end bear baiting, hunting black bears in fir swamps and conifer thickets without bait sites is a losing proposition. If you are going to ban bear baiting, you might as well shut down bear hunts and be done with it.
So ostensibly, New Jersey and Massachusetts invited booming bear numbers when they closed down bear hunting altogether or banned the hunting of bears over bait. Inasmuch as most wildlife biologists consider recreational hunting as a first-line population control agent, it is curious that in two different news stories this week on bear problems in Massachusetts and New Jersey, there was not one mention of this as a causal factor in the bear density problem.
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected].