Panther sightings reported throughout Florida

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Panther sightings reported throughout Florida

August 2013. The public has reported hundreds of sightings of Florida panthers to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). As of August 2013, the public had submitted 790 sightings.

Mistaken identity
Only 12 percent of the reports included a photograph and could be evaluated by Commission biologists. Of those with photos, the majority were confirmed as panthers. Other animals identified by FWC biologists were bobcats, foxes, coyotes, dogs, house cats and even a monkey. Most often the reported animal or tracks belonged to a bobcat, when it was not a panther. The verified panther reports were largely confined to southwest Florida, the well-documented breeding range for panthers in the state. There also were several verified sightings in south central Florida.

“The public’s willingness to share what they have seen or collected on game cameras is incredibly helpful and shows us where panthers presumably are roaming in Florida,” said Darrell Land, who heads the FWC’s panther team. “We thank everyone using the Report Florida Panther Sightings website and encourage others to participate in this citizen-science venture.”

“As the population of this endangered species grows, the FWC expects more Florida panthers to be seen in areas of the state where they have not lived for decades,” Land said. “To properly plan and manage for the expansion of the panther’s range in Florida, information about where the panthers are is vital.”

Identify tracks
The FWC has a new “E-Z guide to identify panther tracks” available at http://www.FloridaPantherNet.org.

100 – 160 panthers alive
The Florida panther population is estimated to be 100 to 160 adults and yearlings, a figure that does not include panther kittens. As recently as the 1970s, the Florida panther was close to disappearing, with as few as 20 animals in the wild.

Sightings can be reported to the FWC website launched a year ago, where people can record when and where they saw a panther or its tracks at MyFWC.com/PantherSightings.

First White-tailed eagle chicks fledge in Ireland for 110 years

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Two White-tailed eagles have fledged near Lough Derg. Courtesy of The Golden Eagle Trust

Growing population should see more chicks in 2014
July 2013. Two White-tailed Eagles have successfully fledged in Ireland for the first time in over 110 years. In the last week the two birds were seen away from the nest and yesterday both chicks were seen flying near the nest on Lough Derg, near Mountshannon, Co Clare. This pair also created history in 2012 when they nested for the first time. It is another significant milestone in the long arduous effort of restoring these magnificent birds to Ireland’s wetlands and coastline.

First Irish born chicks since 2007 reintroduction
These are the first Irish born chicks of the high profile reintroduction programme, which began in 2007 with the release of young Norwegian eagles in Killarney National Park. The White-tailed Eagle reintroduction programme is managed by the Golden Eagle Trust in partnership with, and funded by, the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

Over the coming years, it is hoped that more of the 10 territorial pairs of White-tailed Eagles monitored and located this spring, between Cork and Galway, will nest, lay eggs and hopefully rear young. Other maturing birds, released in recent years are also likely to augment the breeding population over time. It is hoped that in time these Irish bred chicks, from Lough Derg, will survive and breed themselves in 2017 or thereafter.

Experience is vital
All White-tailed Eagle and Golden Eagle breeding attempts are prone to natural failures, over the long 4-5 month breeding season and can encounter a range of constraints and obstacles. Young pairs of breeding eagles are prone to failure before they gradually gain the wide array of skills required for successful breeding. These skills include nest building, continuous uninterrupted incubation, maintaining female body condition and continuously provisioning chicks with regular live prey.

3 pairs laid eggs – 2 nests failed
This year 3 White-tailed Eagle pairs attempted to breed and laid eggs in Counties Kerry and Clare. One pair failed toward the end of the 6 week incubation period. This pair is still on site and hopefully in a mere 6 month’s time they will begin to breed again next spring. Another pair that nested in Killarney National Park hatched at least one chick which survived to within 3-4 weeks of fledging. But it was very disappointing to find that the new nest had collapsed causing the death of the chick, shortly before it was due to fledge. It seems likely that the nest material (vegetation, sods and dead branches) dried out and shrank significantly in the recent dry spell of weather.

Nest was monitored and guarded
The Mountshannon nesting pair also faced its own problems before the two strong chicks took to the skies. As part of the plan to enhance the security around the well-known nest site and increase public awareness of eagles a camera was installed near the nest and several branches were removed. This allowed for the continuous guarding and monitoring of the nest from a safe distance on the Lough shore. These changes apparently triggered a negative response from the adults and the adults only flew near to the nest subsequently, without landing on the nest. The well grown chicks were provisioned with food on the nest and subsequently fledged in great condition and at the anticipated date.

The two chicks are expected to stay around the islands and western shoreline of Lough Derg, north and south of Mountshannon, for the coming weeks with their parents. Sometime in the autumn these juveniles will leave their parents’ territory and begin a 3-4 year nomadic life before settling in their own separate territories before attempting to breed themselves.

Eagles brought ftom Norway
The eggs were laid in County Clare in late March. The Mountshannon breeding adults, a five year old male and four year old female, were both collected on the island of Frøya, off the west coast of Norway. This pair laid eggs in 2012 but failed to hatch chicks. However by January 2013 they had already built a new nest.

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan, T.D., said, “I am truly delighted with this news, marking a great step forward in this ambitious project. It is a joy to see these magnificent birds of prey being reintroduced in Ireland. Congratulations to all involved in Killarney and Clare. My wish now is that these young eagles will have a long life in our skies.”

“This day has been six years in the making but to witness the first flight of a wild Irish-bred White-tailed Eagle here in Mountshannon was a fabulous moment”, said Dr. Allan Mee, project manager for the Golden Eagle Trust. “These two young eagles represent the first of what we hope are many more Irish bred White-tailed Eagles to fledge from nests over the next few years and themselves forming the basis for a viable self-sustaining Irish population. The signs are good that we can achieve this with 10 or more pairs likely to breed annually over the next few years.

While there is still a lot of hard work to be done to achieve this goal we should savour this day as a really important milestone in the recovery of this iconic species. And what better place for White-tailed Eagles to make their comeback than Lough Derg with an abundant supply of potential nest sites and fish for food and set amongst some of Ireland’s most wonderful scenery! This is the second year this pair has nested here and provided a unique opportunity for both local people and visitors to watch nesting eagles. It is likely that this pair will nest here for many more years to come and not only contribute to the recovery of the species but to the growing awareness needed to safeguard our natural heritage. We look forward to many more years of chicks flying from nests in East Clare. Along with the help and close cooperation of local communities, such as at Mountshannon, we can help safeguard their future.”

Local community support
John Harvey, Chairman of Mountshannon Community Council, expressed the delight felt locally at the news of the first White-tailed Eagles to fledge in Ireland in over 110 years. “The pair of White-tailed Eagles took up residence here two years ago and has been an unexpected but very welcome addition to the heritage of East Clare. Ever since they began nesting this year in February local people have taken a keen interest and helped monitor the progress of the pair. Last year the pair failed to hatch chicks so we were really hopeful things would work out this year and we would see chicks leave the nest. We hope that the association between Mountshannon and the eagles will continue for many years to come!”

Despite all the problems and setbacks Irish White-tailed Eagles have endured since they were first released in 2007, they continue to make important incremental steps each year, as part of the long term restoration project. The challenges facing fishing or hunting birds can be periodically difficult as can the challenges facing breeding birds. But as the small Irish White-tailed Eagle breeding population grows, we can hopefully see these breeding birds gain experience and slowly expand their limited range.

The Golden Eagle Trust would like to publically acknowledge the support of scores of individuals, volunteers, landowners, walkers and boating enthusiasts for their support and protection of territorial eagles from Galway to Cork, but especially in Mountshannon, Co. Clare and in Kerry. Despite a few incursions onto the nesting island by outside visitors, the local boating and fishing community in and around Mountshannon have been totally supportive and co-operative, which has been central to the successful fledging of these birds. We hope more people can visit Mountshannon and hopefully enjoy the unique spectacle of a family group of eagles wheeling above the beautiful scenery of Lough Derg.

Courtesy of The Golden Eagle Trust 

Costa Rica may ban hunting…

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Costa Rica is poised to become the first Latin American country to ban hunting as a sport, after Congress on Tuesday provisionally approved reforms to its Wildlife Conservation Law.

Lawmakers voting on the ban voted 41 in favor and five against, and a second vote expected in the coming week is widely seen ratifying changes to the law, which aims to protect animals in one of the world’s most biodiverse countries.

Costa Rica’s national parks attract some 300,000 visitors annually, and tourism is a mainstay of the economy.

“We’re not just hoping to save the animals but we’re hoping to save the country’s economy, because if we destroy the wildlife there, tourists are not going to come anymore”, environmental activist Diego Marin, who campaigned for the reform, told local radio.

Jaguars, pumas and sea turtles are among the country’s most exotic and treasured species, and are often hunted or stolen as trophies.

The ban would not apply to hunting by some indigenous groups for survival, or to scientific research.

The Central American country is home to 4.5 million people. Famous for its sandy beaches, tropical rain forests and eco-friendly resorts, it owes roughly 5 percent of gross domestic product to tourism, which generates around $2.1 billion annually.

Alaska, Mountain Goat News

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The Sitka District Ranger, under authority delegated by the Federal Subsistence Board, is closing the Nakwasina River watershed on Baranof Island in Game Management Unit 4 to the harvest of mountain goats by all users, effective 11:59 p.m., Thursday, October 4, 2012 through December 31, 2012. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) has also issued a closure in the same watershed, effective 11:59 p.m., Thursday, October 4, 2012 through December 31, 2012.

The harvest quota for the Nakwasina River watershed as discussed in the 2012 Baranof Mountain Goat Management Plan has been exceeded as of Tuesday, October 2, 2012. As of October 2, 2012, eight male goats and one female goat have been reported harvested. Additional harvest in this area would be detrimental to the long-term conservation of the mountain goat resource.

A public hearing to discuss the 2012 Baranof Mountain Goat Management Plan was held on July 16, 2012 in Sitka, Alaska. The ability to teleconference was provided so residents of other affected communities in Unit 4 could participate. The 2012 management plan is similar to 2011 with distinct male and female goat harvest caps on Baranof Island. As harvest caps in each of the sub-management areas are reached, those areas would be closed to mountain goat harvest. Members of the public who attended this hearing expressed support for conservation of mountain goats in the Sitka area through closures guided by the 2012 management plan.

The remainder of Baranof Island (except those previously closed by special action or emergency order) will remain open for goat hunting. As in prior seasons, nanny harvest will be more restrictive than billy harvest when applied to the point total. If and when point totals are met, special actions will be issued to close additional watersheds and zones to prevent over-harvest of mountain goats.

Big Horn Sheep News

Years of legal pressure prompts favorable policy change

Written by Brian Ertz

Bighorn sheep populations throughout the West are threatened by deadly disease spread by domestic sheep

Public land domestic sheep grazers and bighorn advocates have been clashing for decades over land-use conflicts which place bighorn sheep populations at risk of deadly disease.  With the passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, favorable policy change promises new avenues of conflict resolution that may leave both sides with something to be happy about.

Litigation as Catalyst for Change

Bighorn advocates including Western Watersheds Project, the Hells Canyon Preservation Council, The Wilderness Society and allies have been successful in applying judicial pressure to the Forest Service.  A series of successful lawsuits have compelled land managers to acknowledge best science and manage land-uses to restrict the risk domestic sheep grazing poses to bighorn sheep viability in areas where domestic sheep grazing overlaps bighorn habitat on public land.

In mid-2010, after several court victories prompted by the excellent legal counsel of Laurie Rule – Advocates for the West, the Payette National Forest had little choice but to implement management restrictions protective of bighorn sheep by significantly reducing domestic sheep grazing on the Forest by over 70%.

All eyes were on the Payette.  Land managers on Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands across the West had been holding out against meaningful reductions of domestic sheep grazing on their own Forests and Districts.  The hold-outs fall into two general camps: Those maintaining solidarity with the sheep industry and those timidly waiting in anticipation of gaining the legal and scientific cover of the finalized PayetteBighorn Sheep Viability Forest Plan Amendment (Payette Decision), a process backed by years of best-science, hashed-out legal wranglings, and court-ordered environmental review.

Bighorn Sheep, photo: IDFG

The Payette Decision sent shock-waves across public land and wildlife management agencies throughout the West.  It’s reach terrifies Woolgrowers who, despite having  history of falling flat on their face when attempting to muddy-the-waters on the unequivocal science demonstrating disease transmission from domestic sheep to bighorns, have been none-the-less accustomed to agency capitulation in response to their local and state political muscle.  The scope of the science and lawfully administered mandate to ensure ‘species viability’ (a standard set by the 1982 implemented regulations for the National Forest Management Act) is a true game-changer for bighorn sheep across the West.

Even so, what the domestic sheep industry lacks in scientific competency it makes up for with political prowess.

Threat of Legislative Backlash

Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho, the powerful Chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, was more than happy to lend a helping hand to mitigate Woolgrowers’ administrative failures by developing a legislative response to bighorn advocates’ successful efforts in the budget bill:

DOMESTIC LIVESTOCK GRAZING
SEC. 442. None of the funds made available by this Act or any other Act through fiscal year 2016 may be used to plan or carry out any action or any subsequent agency regulation for managing bighorn sheep (whether native or nonnative) populations on any parcel of Federal land (as defined in section 3 of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 (16 U.S.C. 6502)) if the action may or will result in a reduction in the number of domestic livestock permitted to graze on the parcel or in the distribution of livestock on the parcel.

Representative Simpson’s legislation would have halted any federal dollars from being spent to implement the Payette Decision, or any other decision that would restrict domestic sheep grazing to protect bighorns, for five years.

Seizing the national political stage, Woolgrowers continued their persistent campaign pushing to obfuscate the issue by spreading an industry letter (pdf) and talking points (pdf) around the Committee on Appropriations in the U.S. House of Representatives, with misinformation in the press and eventually in testimony at a hearing on the issue held by the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.   The Woolgrowers plead for the 5-year “time-out” to develop a vaccine researchers maintain wouldn’t be ready for at least 10-15 years, if it ends up being viable at all.

Bighorn Advocates Respond

By mid-July Beltway bighorn advocates began stirring in response to the Woolgrowers’ letters and Simpson’s language.  Ideas about efforts to respond began to culminate.

National groups including the Natural Resource Defense Council and the Wild Sheep Foundation (formerly Foundation for North American Wild Sheep) began calling in appointments to discuss the bill with congressional staffers.

Having just come off an encouraging trip to D.C. promoting comprehensive, voluntary public land grazing buy-out legislation as a possible win-win solution to natural resource conflicts in the U.S. House of Representatives, several public land and wildlife activists resolved to revisit in December  to build support for the Rural Economic Vitalization Act (H.R. 3432) and address many of the bad grazing riders that were making their way into the budget process, including the Bighorn Rider.

Hart Senate Building – 1983 Oldsmobile

On December 11 Mike Hudak of the Sierra Club Grazing Team, Josh Osher of the Buffalo Field Campaign, and myself (WWP) convened on Washington D.C. and cruised the legislative environs in the comfort of an early 1980s Oldsmobile.

After a few days, the scuttlebutt on the Hill was encouraging.  It was obvious that the Bighorn Rider was being talked about and that it was a concern among conservation and sportsmen sympathetic members of Congress, including those in influential positions in relevant committees.  However, with heightening pressure culminating on the budget, it was unclear which riders would make the final cut, which would be negotiated away, and what the final language would be.

The Bill

Later that week, the House and Senate agreed on the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, which was soon signed into law.  Relevant language of the Bighorn Rider follows:

DIVISION E—DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, ENVIRONMENT, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2012

TITLE IV ● GENERAL PROVISIONS

Domestic Livestock Grazing

Sec. 431. (a) Prohibition Regarding Potential Domestic Sheep and Bighorn Sheep Contact on National Forest System Land- Notwithstanding any other provision of law or regulation (other than the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and regulations issued under such Act), none of the funds made available by this Act or made available by any other Act for fiscal year 2012 only may be used to carry out–

(1) any new management restrictions on domestic sheep on parcels of National Forest System land (as defined in the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 (16 U.S.C. 1609(a))) with potential domestic sheep and bighorn sheep (whether native or nonnative) contact in excess of the management restrictions that existed on July 1, 2011; or

(2) any other agency regulation for managing bighorn sheep populations on any allotment of such National Forest System land if the management action will result in a reduction in the number of domestic livestock permitted to graze on the allotment or in the distribution of livestock on the allotment.

(b) Exception- Notwithstanding subsection (a), the Secretary of Agriculture may make such management changes as the Secretary determines to be necessary to manage bighorn sheep if the management changes–

(1) are consistent with the wildlife plans of the relevant State fish and game agency and determined in consultation with that agency; and

(2) are developed in consultation with the affected permittees.

(c) Bureau of Land Management Lands- In circumstances involving conflicts between bighorn sheep and domestic sheep grazing on public lands (as defined in section 103 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (43 U.S.C. 1702)), the Bureau of Land Management may only modify or cancel domestic sheep grazing permits after consulting with the appropriate State fish and game agency. However, if the State in question has an approved State Wildlife Management Plan that addresses, with specificity, bighorn sheep management, then the Bureau of Land Management modification or cancellation of permits in that State shall conform to the bighorn sheep management objectives in the State Wildlife Management Plan, unless conformance would be inconsistent with Federal statute or regulation. The Bureau of Land Management shall be bound by the requirements of this subsection until September 30, 2012.

(d) Voluntary Closure of Allotments- Nothing in this section shall be construed as limiting the voluntary closure of existing domestic sheep allotments when the closure is agreed to in writing between the permittee and the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture and is carried out for the purpose of reducing conflicts between domestic sheep and bighorn sheep.

(e) Waiver of Grazing Permits and Leases- The Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture may accept the voluntary waiver of any valid existing lease or permit authorizing grazing on National Forest System land described in subsection (a) or public lands described in subsection (c). If the grazing permit or lease for a grazing allotment is only partially within the area of potential domestic sheep and bighorn sheep contact, the affected permittee may elect to waive only the portion of the grazing permit or lease that is within that area. The Secretary concerned shall–

(1) terminate each permit or lease waived or portion of a permit or lease waived under this subsection;

(2) ensure a permanent end to domestic sheep grazing on the land covered by the waived permit or lease or waived portion of the permit or lease unless or until there is no conflict with bighorn sheep management; and

(3) provide for the reimbursement of range improvements in compliance with section 4 of the Act of June 28, 1934 (commonly known as the Taylor Grazing Act; 43 U.S.C. 315c).

The language signed into law is significantly less troublesome for bighorn sheep than that first introduced by Representative Simpson.

The duration of the restriction on use of federally appropriated funds to carry out management restrictions is limited to Fiscal Year 2012, as opposed to the 5-year duration previously considered.  No doubt Woolgrowers and Simpson will seek to extend the restriction in following years.

Simpson’s original language precluded use of budget dollars to “plan or carry out” any reductions or restrictions on domestic sheep grazing.  The passed language omits the word “plan” indicating that the use of federally appropriated dollars to conduct environmental review remains available, which is likely the most recourse bighorn advocates might prompt – at least initially – as the result of any lawsuit elsewhere in the meantime.

Restrictions are further limited to any management changes “in excess of the management restrictions that existed on July 1, 2011 ”.  The Payette Decision was finalized on July 30, 2010.  It is unclear whether the Payette National Forest will interpret the language of the bill to halt implementation of Phase 3 of the Payette Decision, or whether it will carry out its finalized decision as per its July 30, 2010 decision made prior to the rider’s cutoff date.  No doubt Woolgrowers will be arguing that “excess” includes abstention from implementation of Phase 3 of the Payette Decision, the final phase reducing domestic sheep grazing by over 70% on the forest.  Bighorn advocates have compelling ground on which to challenge any such agency interpretation favorable to Woolgrowers.

Voluntary Buy-Outs

The real victory for bighorn sheep throughout the West comes with the inclusion of statutory direction to permanently retire domestic sheep grazing on allotments that are in conflict with bighorn sheep, Sec. 431 (d) & (e), when those permits are waived to the administering agency by the permittee.  This provision comes with no time limitation and appears to apply West-wide.

The inclusion of language providing for voluntary buy-out of conflicting allotments opens up an important alternative to adversarial litigation enabling a new opportunity for bighorn advocates and domestic sheep interests to resolve their conflicts collaboratively and in such a way that both interests ‘win’.  Domestic sheep ranchers looking down the barrel of the Forest Service or BLM’s legal obligation to protect bighorn sheep have an opportunity to recapitalize their operations, pay off any outstanding debt, pursue a hansom retirement, or otherwise cash-out on their federal grazing lease now have the option, if they so choose.  Bighorn sheep advocates have the opportunity to put their resources into permanent solutions that keep bighorn sheep on disease-free habitats without fear of political back-lash.

It remains to be seen how the Payette National Forest interprets the language of this long anticipated legislative action.

In the News: MARMOTS!

Fuzzy rodents of the Rocky Mountains are giving scientists a hint of how hormone-mimicking chemicals can mess with animals’ reproduction.

Two new studies involving yellow-bellied marmots reveal that just slight changes in the animals’ natural exposure to testosterone has profound effects on their lives, according to Daniel Blumstein, a behavioral biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

For instance, female marmots exposed to more testosterone in the womb were less likely to survive their first hibernation, more likely to disperse, and less likely to become pregnant and wean young, the studies found. These “masculinized females” also acted more male by being more gregarious with other marmots, initiating more play and grooming sessions.

Two young male marmots greet. Photograph courtesy Raquel Monclús.

All this simply because the females happened to grow next to their brothers, which can essentially “leak” testosterone as part of the natural defeminization process in the uterus, Blumstein said.

To identify these male-like females, the scientists captured marmots in Colorado and measured the animals’ anogenital distances—or the lengths between the anus and genitals. Females exposed to more testosterone had longer anogenital distances than non-exposed females, he said. Such effects are more pronounced in females than males, as males start out with estrogen but lose the hormone as they develop.

But why the concern? There’ve been a slew of recent studies, mostly in the laboratory, about the impacts of so-called endocrine disruptors. Those are chemicals—such as those found in some plastics—that mimic estrogen or other sex hormones in the body, which can cause reproductive mutations in some animals.

A marmot used in the research. Photograph courtesy Raquel Monclús.

For instance, studies have shown that weed killers make male frogs lay eggs or that mercury can cause birds to act homosexual. An ingredient in some plastics and other products, bisphenol-A, has also been linked to heart disease in people.

(See “BPA Linked to Higher Testosterone Levels.”)

Blumstein emphasized that the scientists didn’t expose marmots to endocrine disruptors or study if the animals are being somehow exposed.

Instead, the research is a sort of a “natural grounding”—an “eye-popping” example of how exquisitely sensitive nature can be, even to minor fluctuations in hormones, he said.

It’s “taking two steps back, [and saying], Wow, this should be a wakeup call for how we’re using and dumping these endocrine disruptors.”

200 Black Bears killed in New Jersey in one day

black bear blog

Wildlife officials estimate that 200 bears were killed Monday on the first day of the state’s black bear hunt.

State officials have said the six-day hunt is needed to reduce the state’s bruin population, now estimated at about 3,400. But critics say the state’s bear management policy is flawed and was developed arbitrarily.

Animal advocates had gone to court to block the hunt, but they were rebuffed Thursday by a state appellate court. They spent part of Monday securing permission to demonstrate at various bear check stations.

More than 6,400 permits were issued, allowing hunters to patrol 1,000 square miles of northern New Jersey, which, according to officials, has one of the densest black bear populations in the nation. The state Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife is supervising the hunt, saying its goal is to stabilize and reduce the bear population to minimize conflicts and bear/human interactions.

Opponents call it murder and a crime against nature.

“A bear hunt doesn’t solve nuisance complaints, a bear hunt doesn’t protect property, a bear hunt doesn’t protect public safety and the bear hunt will not reduce the population,” says Angie Metler, the spokesperson for the Bear Education and Resource Group.

Another opponent, Susan Kehoe, calls the bears “beautiful animals” and claims a mother once left her with cubs in her care.

“It is sad,” Susan says, “especially when there is no need for a hunt. It is just a trophy hunt. It is not about bear population, it is not about safety, it is a trophy hunt. They are not dangerous.”

The state says otherwise, calling it a “comprehensive, science fact-based response to the large black bear population and increase in public complaints about bear and human encounters.”

The hunt lasts through Saturday with strict rules. Permits must be applied for in advance, along with tags that must be purchased and applied to any animal that is killed. There are rules about weapons, ammo, and the transportation of the bears, which must be brought to one of four check-in stations the day they’re killed. The animals are weighed by state agents who also take skin and blood samples and a tooth before releasing the carcass to the hunters.

Robert Melber, a welder and Arizona native temporarily living in Pennsylvania, brought in the first bear on the first day of the hunt to the Pequest Check-in Station — a 166.5 pound female. He’s bagged deer before, but never shot a bear. He says it only took 30 minutes before “she walked right into me, ran right into me.”

When asked what he did, he says, “I shot it while it was running. It all happened pretty quick and it was all over pretty quick.”

“You gotta keep your animals to a certain number,” he says. “No ands, ifs or buts about that. And there’s a lot of bears in New Jersey.”

Dr. Larry Rudolph with Safari Club International is one of the hunters who fought animal rights activists in court.

“The anti-hunting groups have a word they describe, they want to have bear aversion training,” Rudolph says. “Somehow, they think these animals aren’t wild animals but circus animals to be trained to avoid humans. That’s not logical and that’s not possible.”

“Bears can definitely be a danger in New Jersey this year,” Rudolph continues. “New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection cited almost 3,000 instances where there was human bear interface, with 46 of those involving bears actually entering into a residential home. I don’t think you want to come home and find a black bear in your kitchen, when you are ready to make dinner.”

Animal rights groups say they will continue to protest the hunt every day this week. The state expects roughly 600 bears will be harvested by the time the hunt ends.