Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Bear hunt on; activists sue to protest

Subject to protest?

The ongoing saga of New Jersey’s bear hunt is — well, it’s ongoing. Now animal-rights activists are suing to protest at a game-checking station. From the Associated Press:

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Animal rights activists seeking to protest the state’s black bear hunt will head to court Monday to try to persuade a judge to allow them to demonstrate at a bear check station.
The animal advocates conceded Friday that there wasn’t enough time for them to challenge a court decision allowing the state’s six-day bear hunt to begin Monday. The protesters then got the verbal approval of a state Department of Environmental Protection official to demonstrate at the Franklin bear check station in Sussex County, according to Doris Lin, an attorney for the protesters.
But Lin said the agency then formally denied the protest request late Friday afternoon and instead offered two alternate sites that the groups declined because they would provide “much less visibility” than the check station. The activists also want to be at the station so they can document how many bears are killed by hunters.
Lin says the groups will ask a state appellate judge to overturn the agency’s decision on the protest site. The judge’s ruling is expected Monday.
Agency spokesman Larry Ragonese said Sunday that the agency never agreed to the groups’ request. He said safety concerns spurred the decision to keep protesters from the check station, noting its limited space and location on a major highway.
“There’s insufficient space for protesters and others to move around out there, and there’s also not enough parking and inadequate lighting. Combine that with drivers traveling along Route 23, and it’s a potentially dangerous situation,” Ragonese said.
“When we and the Franklin authorities reviewed everything, it was determined that it wouldn’t be safe to have the protest there, so we offered them the chance to use other sites, which they declined,” Ragonese added. “We want to give them their opportunity to express their views, but we don’t want to compromise public safety.
The animal rights groups’ legal bid comes just days after a state appellate court rejected their request to stop the hunt from taking place. They plan to take that case to the state Supreme Court to try to block another hunt from occurring next year.
State wildlife officials have said the hunt is necessary to keep the state’s black bear population, now thought to number about 3,400, in check. The population has remained fairly stable after increasing dramatically since the 1980s. Confirmed bear sightings have been made in all 21 of the state’s counties.
The hunt is only one component of the state’s Comprehensive Bear Management Policy, which also includes public education and nonlethal bear management measures.