Thursday, December 15, 2005

More News on the NJ Bear Hunt

Two Predators Engaged In Timeless Ritual
December 15, 2005
Cry me a river. That's what I say to the animal rights activists protesting blood on the snow in northwestern New Jersey, where nearly 300 black bears were killed during a six-day season ending last weekend. A shot of adrenaline. That's what I say to the 7 percent of the 4,400 hunters who actually bagged one. It must be quite a rush to kill a huge bear, though it's not my idea of fun. Wildlife management. That's what the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection was doing. They sponsored this legal blood-letting to help thin the burgeoning population of Ursus americanus expanding into this part of America's eastern megalopolis. Black bears are basically omnivores. They are fun to watch from a distance, being curious, ingenious, agile and fuzzy. But there's no humor in having them scare your children or destroy your campsite, bird feeder, garden shed, dumpster - you name it - just to find food. They have an undeserved reputation for aggression, but attacks do happen. And with weights commonly in the 400- to 600-pound range and four long legs, they are strong enough to tear down a patio deck and fast enough to run more than 30 miles per hour. Black bears are not always gentle and retiring. They pestered our field camps in Alaska for years. (I worked there in the early 1970s on archaeological projects.) Though I never had to kill one, my colleagues did. On several occasions, I had to fire noise-making shots with the .44-caliber magnum I kept beside my pillow. Though we were mostly worried about grizzlies, black bears were a chronic threat to our food and to a lesser extent our safety, forcing us to: lug firearms around during the day (a short-barreled, 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun was the recommended weapon); build expensive caches high in the trees; hike with the constant noise of bells on backpacks; and wait patiently for them to move on before we could get back to work. I still get scared when I remember the smell of bear halitosis in my tent at night and the mauling of a colleague who had both her arms chewed off by a black bear shortly after we played Frisbee together.Animal rights activists are absolutely right that we must be compassionate to other creatures. Certainly there is a more expensive but more humane way to kill a surplus population of bears, such as tranquilizing them into teddy bear dreams by shooting them with hypodermic darts from helicopters. Hunters are absolutely right that their sport satisfies something deep in the human psyche. Stone cut-marks on bone are among the earliest clues to hominid behavior. Kill and butchering sites are common archaeological excavations.The Inuit (Eskimos) of the 19th century had no choice but to kill seals that have since become favorite stuffed toys for animal activists. The New Jersey hunters do have a choice whether to hunt or not, thanks to the invention of grain feedlots, slaughterhouses and fast-food joints en route to their hunting grounds. But they do not have a choice to set aside millions of years' worth of instinct that evolved to help ensure our survival. Hunting is so much more than obtaining free-range meat or satiating a blood lust. The ice age cave paintings portray it as a religion. For modern men, it's the ultimate in male bonding, better than football.One inviolate rule of evolution is that there must be an excess population from which the most fit will be selected. The excess population of bears in New Jersey has just been selected upon by human predators. After the hunt, and due to some combination of blind luck, activity schedule, habitat preference, wariness or coloration, those bears left remaining in the woods of New Jersey are probably the ones more likely to stay out of suburban trouble. I'm not a PETA member, though I am a person for the ethical treatment of animals. But I do know two things. Homo sapiens is an animal that hunts. And hunting can help keep the world in balance.Robert M. Thorson is a professor of geology at the University of Connecticut and a member of The Courant's Place board of contributors. His column appears every Thursday. He can be reached at,0,4779830.column

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Slow Start to Deer Season !

A Slow Start for Deer Hunting: A Slow Start to the Deer Hunting Season

By DAVID BRENSILVER Published on 12/9/2005
Lyme - This season's warm weather apparently has reduced the number of deer killed by hunters, compared to last year, state wildlife experts report.
According to Department of Environmental Protection wildlife technician Andrew Labonte, hunters killed 5,825 deer the first two weeks of the hunting season, which began Nov. 16, about 400 fewer they killed during the same period last year.
Labonte said unseasonably mild conditions likely contributed to the decline.
Ron Rando, whose East Lyme store, Ron's Guns, is an official station for hunters to register their kills, agreed.
“Warm weather, I think, has a lot to do with it,” he said.
Both Labonte and Rando said deer don't move around as much during warm weather, making it more difficult for hunters to see and shoot them.
The reduced kill comes at a time when the state is encouraging hunters to take more deer in shoreline regions.
The DEP has allowed the use of bait since 2002 in shoreline zones, and replacement tags are given to hunters who have killed female deer. That means that a hunter can harvest a limitless number of female deer. Does produce two fawns per year, on average, Howard Kilpatrick, a wildlife biologist with the DEP, said.
This year, he said, the DEP is giving hunters a free replacement tag for every three antlerless deer checked in, plus a bonus buck tag.
Hunters using rifles receive permits to kill one buck and one doe per season. Archers are permitted to triple that number.
On a sunny Thursday morning last week, deer hunters – five of them over the course of one hour – arrived at Ron's Guns with their harvests.
Lyme residents Art Welch, 36, and Patrick Stevens, 18, arrived to check in their bounty: Welch's three-point buck, which he shot in Ledyard, and a doe Stevens shot in Salem.
Both were hunting with rifles on private land. Hunters need written permission from land owners to hunt on private land.
Rando said he checked in 339 deer, as of Dec. 1. That's down about 100 from the same time last year, he estimated. On opening day this year, for example, Rando said he checked in about 10 less deer than he did a year ago.
Dave Gumbart is assistant director of land management for The Nature Conservancy. His organization's interest in the state's deer populations has to do with the over-browsing of vegetation, and encouraging a balance among all species that should be in one area.
Gumbart talked about alternative deer management options, such as contraceptive darts.
“Current data shows that it only lasts, basically, a season,” Gumbart said.
And trapping and relocating deer, Gumbart said, often results in high mortality rates due to stress on the animals, and is expensive.
“There is definitely a large group of people that continue to hunt” in the area, Gumbart said, talking in terms of culture.
The Nature Conservancy organized deer hunts on some of its land this season, including 40 or so acres in the Selden Creek Preserve, in Lyme.
Kilpatrick said once deer populations exceed 15-20 per square mile, they can begin to impact forest ecosystems.
Every three years, the DEP conducts aerial surveys in different deer management zones. The department is trying to reduce the populations in zones 11 and 12. Zone 12 includes, in part, areas in East Lyme, Lyme and Old Lyme.
Kilpatrick said harvesting has become more important, in part, due to the loss of habitat for wolves and mountain lions.
He said a 3-year-old survey listed the deer population in the state at 76,000, but added that number is very conservative. Labonte said the number could be twice that.
Kilpatrick said there are roughly 35,000 deer hunters in Connecticut, and that the DEP sells some 60,000-70,000 hunting permits annually.
Kilpatrick said the “harvest has definitely gone up with all these different incentive programs that we have in place.”
The DEP, he said, supports The Nature Conservancy's deer management programs, and helps to implement hunts.
While the season, which opened Nov. 16, will close in all zones for those hunting with rifles on Dec. 20, bow-hunting in zones 11 and 12 will be allowed through January – another incentive to maximize harvesting.
“These are the areas we're targeting to kill more deer,” Kilpatrick said.