Outdoor Life Online Editor

Last year’s on-again, off-again saga of New Jersey’s bear season seems to have bled into 2005 as the state’s Fish and Game Council recently approved a six-day bear hunt set to begin Dec. 5. Final approval of the hunt must jump one last hurdle-it requires the blessing of New Jersey Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley Campbell, who was the chief force behind the season’s eventual cancellation last year.

To the surprise of sportsmen, however, Campbell has hinted that he might be in support of a 2005 bear hunt. While the commissioner hasn’t specifically cited why his opposition has softened (last year he fought the game council all the way to the state Supreme Court to get the hunt stopped), some analysts have speculated it is because of the sharp increase in nuisance bear complaints and violent bear encounters in the state.

New Jersey had 677 bear complaints through the first half of this year, up from 424 in the same time period in 2004. A bear injured a camper in July. And just days before the council’s approval of the hunt, two nuisance bears were killed by state wildlife authorities. One had invaded a home and the other was harassing people at a campground.

Campbell and the game council are working together on developing a black bear management plan. Hearings are slated for September on the plan after which Campbell will issue his final decision on whether this year’s hunt should move forward. Opponents of the hunt have already begun voicing their disapproval and it is expected that they will mount a highly vocal anti-bear hunting campaign as they did in 2003 and 2004.

New Jersey held it’s first bear hunt in 33 years in 2003 with hunters taking 328 black bears.