vernon — The first black bear taken in the state annual bear hunt was taken in Vernon Township on Dec. 13.
The bear, a 135-pound adult femlae was taken by Vernon resident Marc Beardslee. The second was a 246-pound adult male taken in Andover Townshiop by Mike Donahue of Stanhope.
While black bears have been reported in all 21 counties, the densest population is in a 1,000-square-mile portion of the state north of Route 78 and west of Route 287. Hunting zones are located in parts of Hunterdon, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex and Warren counties, plus a small area of western Bergen County.
Department of Environmental Protection biologists predict a harvest in this year's hunt likely will will be similar to 2013, when 251 bears were taken. Weather could play a factor in those numbers.
"We anticipate a very safe and professionally managed black bear hunt, which is just one component of the New Jersey's Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy," DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said. "The state's overall goal is to reduce the number of bears to a more manageable number, while improving public safety by reducing bear encounters with people."
In addition to hunting, the state's comprehensive policy includes a common sense mix of bear management tools, including public education, research, bear-habitat analysis and protection and non-lethal bear management techniques, and a bear-feeding ban, all geared towards reducing bear-human encounters.
The DEP's comprehensive approach, which was formally established in 2010 by the state's Fish and Game Council, has been gradually reducing the estimated number of black bears living in North Jersey, which has a robust black bear population. Scientifically calculated and conservative estimates show approximately 2,200 to 2,500 black bears living in the hunting area north of Route 78 and west of Route 287. That is down from an estimated 3,400 bears in 2010.
New Jersey's hunt is complemented by black bear hunts that occur each autumn in neighboring Pennsylvania and New York, where 3,510 and 1,358 bears respectively were taken by hunters in 2013. Bears living in North Jersey also traverse parts of those neighboring states.