State Agencies Battle to Manage Wildlife

It seems that every few months a new antihunting, anti-wildlife-management crisis pops up in New Jersey.

Will hunting continue to play a role in managing New Jersey's deer herd?

It seems that every few months a new antihunting, anti-wildlife-management crisis pops up in New Jersey. In July, the situation only worsened. Michael Panter, Democrat, sponsored Assembly Bill 3275, which changed the makeup of the New Jersey Fish and Game Council. For decades, the 11-member Council consisted of two sportsmen each from South Jersey, Central Jersey, and North Jersey; a farmer from each of those three regions; a conservationist; and an endangered and non-game species representative.

Now animal rightists are pushing for a bill that would allow New Jersey's governor (no friend of hunting) to appoint seven people to the Commission. If your governor understands wildlife management and the values of hunting, then no problem -- but what if said governor leans toward the animal-rights side? Would this lead to the end of hunting in New Jersey? In the long run, that is a possibility. But, certainly, if this becomes law, many antihunting, anti-wildlife-management changes could likely take effect.

It became obvious that politics were involved when this bill was directed to Panter's Environment and Solid Waste Committee rather than the Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee, where it belonged. At the hearing in front of Panter's Committee, 40 people testified, and the committee voted for the bill. Supposedly, changes will be made to the bill and it will be forwarded to the floor for a vote.

One more thing -- the U.S. Sports-man's Alliance reports that this bill also directs the Commission to investigate nonlethal management options before setting hunting, fishing, or trapping programs. It would also transfer the Division of Fish and Wildlife from the Depart-ment of Conservation and Economic Development to the Department of En-vironmental Protection. If this bill passes, the head of Environmental Protection (no friend of hunting) would be making decisions on whether to allow nonlethal management before hunting seasons and bag limits are established. We've seen how politics have delayed the bear hunting season in New Jersey -- can you imagine the disaster this bill and political approach would inflict on deer and waterfowl seasons?

Regarding the issue of baiting -- politicians support it, while game agencies oppose it. Thus, when the Mississippi legislature introduced a bill to legalize baiting, people got nervous. However, common sense prevailed as the legislature ditched that bill and passed one that puts such a decision in the hands of the Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks. Contrary to what happened in New Jersey, legislators in Mississippi decided to let the experts make a wildlife decision. The bill allows the Commission to study the impacts of deer baiting and then to make a determination. The governor agreed and signed the bill into law in April 2007.

Oregon state officials have their hands full with cougar management. In 1994, the state passed a citizen referendum that abolished hunting with dogs for mountain lions and black bears. In 1996, the public reaffirmed that vote, and since then, mountain lion numbers have climbed 20 percent to 5,100. Hunting for cats still occurs, but not with dogs (with the exception that game agency employees can use dogs to kill up to 24 mountain lions in three target areas).

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Even though hunters cannot use dogs, all elk and deer gun hunters can buy a lion tag for $11.50 and shoot lions during the deer and elk seasons. In 2006, 38,719 such lion licenses were sold, and hunters killed 284 cougars. This is higher than the 160 that hunters killed in 1993 (before the dog ban). Even so, cougar numbers have climbed, and over 440 complaints arise each year. The Oregon Cattlemen's Association feels that current cat management does not do enough to stabilize the population. Experts put together a state management plan that addressed the fact that present regulations and hunting were not stabilizing the population. This led to a 2007 bill that allows the state wildlife agency to appoint and certify selected "agents" (i.e. hunters) with dogs to hunt mountain lions. As you might imagine, much controversy surrounds this legislation.

Since hunter dollars will pay for this approach, some hunting groups are opposed, as they feel that regular, licensed hunters should be able to hunt cats with dogs. They would do it for free. Other groups opposed the legislation, questioning the state's estimate of the lion population and also questioning whether hunting of any kind would lower mountain lion numbers. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Growing up, I marveled at what great deer hunting Alabama offered because hunters could harvest one deer per day. On May 19, the Alabama Conservation Advisory Board passed a three-buck limit, ending years of tradition. Dr. Warren Strickland, a well-known bowhunter, is on that board and played a major role in getting new deer bag limits passed. A two-buck limit was preferred, but the board realized that would cause political up-heaval, so it settled for a three-buck limit. The first two deer a hunter takes may be either bucks or does. The third deer, however, must have at least four points on one side.

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