The great bear kill (and the deer, too)

The great bear kill (and the deer, too)

This week, more than 6,400 hunters are taking direct aim at the estimated 3,400 black bears live within a 1,000 square mile area that runs north of Route 78 and west of Route 287, and covers parts of Bergen and Passaic counties, as well as several others.

In the first two days of the “great bear kill” (the state prefers the term “harvesting,” as if killing animals is akin to picking tomatoes), 309 bruins were shot dead. Six hundred or more will be killed during the six days of the hunt – including cubs, because state rules allow hunters to kill them, too. There is no estimate of how many bears were merely wounded and are now dying slow and painful deaths, and it is doubtful that the state wants to gather such statistics.

Officials argue that the Garden State has one of the densest black bear populations in the United States. “Thinning out” that population, the state says, will reduce the amount of damage the bears cause each year, and would limit the number of unintended contacts between humans and bruins, which can be hazardous to both species.

Not everyone agrees. “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,” a spokesperson for the Bear Education and Resource Group was quoted in news reports as saying. We agree. We also agree with those who argue that there are humane ways of thinning out the bear population, such as capturing them and relocating them elsewhere.

Concurrent with the bear hunt is the state’s “Six-day Firearm Season for Deer” (that is the formal title), which the state assures us “will provide great memories and countless hours of excitement for sportsmen and sportswomen throughout New Jersey.”

For those hunters who missed out this week on bagging a buck, they get another shot at it next week during Permit Shotgun Season (Dec. 14-16), or during all of January (the Winter Bow season).

There is an economic advantage to the deer hunt, the state notes.

“Deer hunters spend more than $100 million each year as they enjoy approximately 1.5 million recreation-days hunting deer. Money spent in the course of deer hunting benefits a wide variety of New Jersey businesses.”

Judaism, of course, never countenanced the random killing of animals. An entire body of Jewish law, “tzaar baalei chaim” (it means “troubling live creatures”), developed over time, beginning with Torah legislation. This corpus sets out very strict guidelines requiring humane treatment of animals, even those that are destined to be used for food. Not only are we generally prohibited from causing an animal pain, we are obligated to do everything possible to prevent pain from being inflicted in any way.

New Jersey is not run according to Jewish law, or the law of any religion. That is to the good most of the time – but perhaps not this time.