In recent years, we’ve seen it in New Jersey, Maryland, California, Nevada and Florida.
The slightest whisper that a state game agency might be thinking about launching or expanding a black bear season stimulates an outcry from animal rights groups, frivolous court actions, and media exposure for people who think a bear-proof garbage can is all you need to accomplish wildlife management.
Now, we’re seeing it in Connecticut, too.
When news reports circulated that Connecticut might be considering its first black bear season since 1840, reaction from animal rightists was swift.
Commenting on a possible hunt and the state revenue it might generate, Nancy Rice, speaking for Friends of Animals in Connecticut, told the Hartford Courant, “It’s definitely a bloody way to make money.” She added, “They are not going to get this one without a huge fight.”
Then there were comments like these, on the same Hartford Courant story:
“This is disgusting...the proposal to hunt bears is downright wrong… I am sick of the NRA and its gun-happy mentality…. Quite frankly, wildlife officials should spend their time looking into how to reduce mosquito populations, as they are much more annoying and dangerous to more people for a longer period of time. As the climate continues to change, we'll soon be seeing the likes of malaria in CT...put things into perspective folks. NO bear hunting...not now, not ever.”
On one hand, both comments are typical animal rights rhetoric—hyperbolic, wildly inaccurate, and misguided to the point of laughter. But it would be a mistake to laugh them off. These comments carry some force with state agencies, as no doubt the certain threat of litigation does.
We can tell this by the response of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP)—who practically leaped to point out that they are NOT planning a bear season at this time. The rumors started because the DEEP had drafted and submitted a bear hunt lottery plan to Gov. Dannel Malloy.
While that might suggest a bear hunt is coming, it isn’t, at least not immediately.
Commenting on the hunt lottery proposal, Bill Hyatt, chief of DEEP’s Wildlife Division, told the Hartford Courant, “What this proposal aims to do is just give us a tool that might be useful in the future when we come to, or if we come to, a point where we determine a bear hunt is a direction that we would want to go.” He added, “So, what we have to do is look down the road and say, ‘What are our options in the future?’ And one of those options, and it certainly hasn’t been decided yet, but one of those options is a hunt.”
I put a call into DEEP to get more information on this, but no one has been able to call back yet.
When a game department official’s statement is so carefully worded, so careful to point out that there is no bear hunt actually planned (never mind the bear hunt lottery draft), it’s for one of two reasons: they don’t have the science to back up a hunt—and they certainly do need that—or they are trying to keep at bay the lawsuits they know anti-hunting groups will file. The suits do horrendous damage—worst of all, they put wildlife decisions in the hand of judges, who are not wildlife managers. These lawsuits are also costly, and they force game managers away from their primary jobs to do endless media interviews and help attorneys prepare their case.
DEEP is working on the science, and that is exactly what solid wildlife management calls for. They know that bear sightings are way up—from 75 in 1995 to 2,786 in 2011. They know the bear population is between 500 and 1,000. They know nuisance complaints are up. But there is more they need to know and they are talking with university scientists about filling in gaps.
No doubt the science will help in court, too.
In the meantime, it is critical to hear as many level-headed Connecticut sportsmen comment on this issue as mosquito-obsessed anti-hunters. Public opinion will count in this debate. It did in Maryland, New Jersey, Nevada and California, all of which launched or expanded black bear hunts in recent years. (Florida is still wait and see.) What sportsmen—and the game and fish agency—need to say loud and clear is this: “If the science of wildlife management justifies a hunt, then let’s have a hunt.”