History and Present Status of the Black Bear in New Jersey Thesis

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American Black Bear

America long ago ceased being the more pristine wilderness it was when Europeans first arrived, and since that time, the history of the country has been a story of larger and larger populations pushing more into formerly wild territory and at the same time pushing out many native animal species. What has normally happened is that these animal populations move further into what remains of the wilderness regions, but the growth of human populations has continued reducing the size of the wilderness areas and brought the human settlements closer and closer to what remains. This situation leads to clashes between the two populations, which is a particular problem for the human population when the animal involved is as large and fierce as the American Black Bear (Ursus americanus), which is also the most common bear species native to North America. The human response in recent years has been to try to strike a balance between self-protection and preservation of the environment, including the species in that environment, but the way some areas go about this is not always the best solution, as can be seen in New Jersey, where the two populations have been in conflict for some time.

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The Black Bear is a native species throughout most of North America and ranged across the Northwest and the Northeast alike, well into Canada. In terms of survival, the animal is classified as a relatively sensitive species because of its mobility, being an animal that has large home range requirements (Johnson and Klemena 31). Such animals are threatened not necessarily by humans themselves but by barriers created by human populations, such as human-made structures and roads. Roads area often seen to be threats to life for some animal groups, especially those already in low numbers or that exist in naturally low densities. Research shows that many carnivores, including the Black Bear, simply avoid roads. However, because these animals also have a wide range over which to traverse, road crossings become more likely and even inevitable, and there is less and less chance for the animals to change their movements or shift their territories (Johnson and Klemena 188-189).

Thesis on History and Present Status of the Black Bear in New Jersey Assignment

The Black Bear population in the New Jersey region dwindled as human populations spread throughout the state, leading to conservation efforts that achieved some success. This success produced new problems, however, leading to a controversial decision to allow periodic bear hunts to reduce the threat. As one newspaper writer noted, "Black bears have rebounded from near extinction in the state but the loss of habitat to development is forcing many of the animals to seek food in populated areas" ("Open Season on Black Bear Population in New Jersey" para. 5). Bears had been all but wiped out in New Jersey in the nineteenth century as people cleared forests and killed the bears as a threat. In the twentieth century, woodlands came back as part of the landscape, and bears were given protected "game animal" status by the government, meaning while bears could be hunted during a state-sanctioned season, they were protected the rest of the time. In New Jersey, this meant most of the time, since the last such hunt in the twentieth century was in 1970. That situation changed in 2003 when the state Fish and Game Council scheduled a six day hunt in December because of complaints by homeowners in the northwest part of the state, people who saw the bear population as a growing problem. As the human settlements took more and more territory, the bears began moving into populated areas in search of food. The problem was increased in times of low rainfall and mild winters, the latter meaning that bears would curtail their hibernation early and start searching for food wherever they could find it. The low rainfall means a poor crop of the food bears like to eat, such as skunk cabbage, berries, and acorns. When the bears cannot find these foods, they start to look in yards, farm fields, and campgrounds and encounter humans. Rangers in campgrounds sought to reduce the problem by stopping campers from feeding the bears or from leaving food in a vulnerable place, with only limited success (Granville 14).

A recent study by Dave Harker and Diane C. Bates looks at the black bear hunt in New Jersey and sees this approach as failing to recognize all of the ramifications of the problem, including new problems created by this policy itself. The researchers see any human response as having to take note of the need for human beings to live with nonhuman animals, even potentially dangerous mammals. The authors analyze the content of newspaper editorial materials over a 10-year period, ending in 2005, and they find two trends in these writings. First, they find that hunt supporters and opponents promote specific constructions of bears, hunters, and other actors in what they write. Second, they note that these constructions are not only different but contradictory, finding that opponents and supporters portray bears as either menacing threats or benevolent and peaceful animals, neither of which offers a complete picture. Such contradictory constructions have the result of de-legitimating other constructions and other actors. The authors state that this evidence highlights the way public discourse has produced the duality seen today, with the only two choices being do nothing or kill bears.

The authors clearly believe that a more nuanced approach would serve the needs of the public far better (Harker and Bates 329-352).

Also questioned was the rationale for the hunt, based on a census suggesting a large numb of bears in the area. Critics who support animal rights questioned the count of bars and said that the number was inflated in order to justify then hunt. These critics state that the number of bears is around one thousand, and in the past, state biologists have found the total number of bears in New Jersey to be only 500. When hunting bear was stopped in 1970, there were fewer than one hundred animals in the state, which is why the species was deemed in need of protection. Since that time, the bear have moved once more into Bergen, Morris, Somerset, Hunterdon, and Mercer Counties and also back into Sussex, Warren, and Passaic Counties (Pearce 14).

The concerns were raised when a motorist hit a 608-pound male bear in Warren County, a bear much larger than the average. This was one of 100 bears killed over the previous two years, suggesting that there were too many bears in the area, that those bears were now crossing roads to find food, and finally that a bear hunt was the way to weed out the population. The bear hunt started in 2003 and was repeated in 2005, though critics by then were noting that this was not the way to handle the problem and that in any case the bear hunts were being conducted in counties that had no problem, reducing the bear population for no reason. It was also noted that the bear hunt in the wrong areas could do little more than drive the remaining population into other counties, which would increase the problem in those areas that had a problem.

The problem is found not just in New Jersey, and the black bear population has been increasing across the country. The numbers of black bear numbers has increased in many areas of the lower 48 states over the past 30-odd years. In Minnesota, the bear population has increased from 6,000 to 30,000. The problem becomes acute when bears and people compete for the same territory, as has happened in New Jersey, the most densely populated state. The wildlife manager now uses the term cultural carrying capacity, referring to the number of burly omnivores that society will tolerate. When conflicts occur, in most cases, the bears are only following their nature, and they will eat anything when natural foods are hard to find. They may do damage as they search for food, though people are rarely hurt in these instances, except to be frightened. A state wildlife official recently warned that if home construction near mountainous areas continues at the current rapid pace so that the bears continue to lose habitat, more dangerous confrontations are inevitable (Line paras. 1-7).

There is little chance that humans will stop building in many of these areas or that they will stop building roads across woodland areas, and confrontations between bears and humans are likely to continue. The hunt approach New Jersey has been using is as much punitive as reasoned, and at best, it would create an ongoing see-saw effect as bears are decimated, followed by periods of protection, followed by a revival of the hunt, and so on. This is not a solution at all but merely a move that keeps the problem going and contributes to tensions between hunters and naturalists, between those who want to eliminate the bears as a solution and those who want to preserve the species and increase its number. The… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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