The apparent October death of Pedals the Bear, a bipedal bear who gained nationwide popularity for videos where he'd walk on his hind legs, is serving as the rallying cry for anti-hunting protesters in New Jersey. But many hunters are seemingly more than happy to take advantage of the fact that the New Jersey bear hunt is extending to December for the first time since annual hunts resumed in 2010.
In the state of New Jersey, hunters and wildlife officials alike have been for annual bear hunting activities. According to the Christian Science Monitor, this is because hunting leads to population control, which in turn reduces potentially dangerous interactions between people and bears. But there have been those who are vehemently against the New Jersey bear hunt, including animal rights activists who are planning to organize protests ahead of Monday's scheduled second phase of the annual hunt.Bear Education and Resource (BEAR) program director Janine Motta says that the reported death of Pedals the Bear made things "personal" for the animal's many social media fans.
"Here was one particular bear that people may have known, seen or just followed on Facebook. They felt a connection with Pedals. When he was killed, it became personal for those who loved him, and that translated into a greater awareness of the hunt in general and the realization that all bears who are killed are important."A report from NJ.com cited statistics from the New Jersey bear hunt's first stage, which took place in October. All in all, 562 bears were killed during this phase, with over half of them (296) killed in Sussex County. The first stage lasted six days and covered eight northern counties of the Garden State, and the high death count suggests that next week's second stage may end earlier than expected. This phase is set to kick off on Monday, December 5, and conclude on Saturday, December 10. While protesters are planning to convene on Monday morning outside the Whittingham Wildlife Management Area, just like they have done in previous hunts, it would appear that New Jersey's bear hunters aren't perturbed at all. NJ.com quoted New Jersey State Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs president Ray Szpond, who said that he killed a female bear in the October hunt with a bow and arrow, and that bear hunting is done with the safety of humans in mind. He brought up an incident in 2014 when a Rutgers University student was fatally mauled by a bear in West Milford.
"We have far too many bears in the state of New Jersey. The only way to control them is through controlled hunting."That explanation didn't impress critics of the bear hunt, and the Christian Science Monitor reported that animal rights activists are especially unhappy that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection supports the hunt in the name of population control.
"It is an atrocity for a department that is supposed to look after the management of all wildlife to recommend this bear hunt," said Kathleen Schatzmann, New Jersey state director for the Humane Society of the United States in a 2015 interview with the CSMonitor. "To call it anything besides a trophy hunt is ridiculous."
The coming week's New Jersey bear hunt will be a poignant one for activists, as it comes just two months after the presumed death of Pedals the Bear. Bloomingdale, N.J., resident and bear hunt protester Elaine Dunn told NJ.com that Pedals was a harmless creature and had brought up earlier speculation that the animal was singled out as a prime target for hunters. But according to Szpond, the controversy regarding Pedals' supposed killing is unnecessary considering how bears have a fearsome reputation.
"Bears are not friendly creatures. Just because you give a bear a name, doesn't make it a mascot."Although Senator Ray Lesniak (D-N.J.) had sought to place a five-year moratorium on the New Jersey bear hunt in the wake of reports on Pedals the Bear's death, DEP spokesman Bob Considine emailed NJ.com to stress the importance of a controlled hunt, given the high reproductive rates and low mortality rates of the animals. He added that the state DEP's bear management policy includes non-lethal ways of dealing with bears, including "raising awareness about coexisting with bears" and keeping garbage away from their sight.
[Featured Image by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]