Bush Administration Strong-Arms State Wildlife Officials

The HSUS and The Fund for Animals are protesting a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) employee's attempts to influence a local decision by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in favor of recreational bear hunting. In a letter sent today to Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton and Inspector General Earl E. Devaney of the Department of the Interior, the groups charged that Fish and Wildlife Service employee John McDonald unlawfully threatened to terminate all Federal conservation funding for the State of New Jersey unless the Department of Environmental Protection allows a bear hunt to occur this season, as has been demanded by the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance and other trophy hunting groups.

Under the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, the State of New Jersey currently receives approximately two million dollars of federal aid for essential habitat and species conservation efforts throughout the State, including for the comprehensive management of black bears. As explained in the groups' letter, although federal law is absolutely clear that States can and should use federal funds for non-lethal wildlife management, McDonald informed the State on November 10, 2004 that federal funds cannot be used for such purposes unless the State also conducts a sport hunt for bears. The Department of Environmental Protection has refused to carry out such a hunt because, among other reasons, the Department "lacks the resources to oversee and conduct the hunt in a manner consistent with public safety."

"Congress has made clear that this Act was not designed as a tool for the USFWS to further their independent agenda to promote trophy hunting,"said Michael Markarian, President of The Fund for Animals. "By using the Act in this manner, the federal government is not only grossly abusing its authority, but is also trampling the State's right to make it's own wildlife management decisions."

"In this case, it's clear that the People of New Jersey, rather than a federal bureaucrat, should have the final say on how to deal with the relatively small black bear population in their state,"said Wayne Pacelle, President of The HSUS. "The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has declared that sport hunting of bears is not feasible this season, and this decision should not be superseded by overreaching federal officials, nor second-guessed by national trophy hunting groups like the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance."

The resumption of bear hunting in New Jersey in 2003 has been extremely controversial, not only because of the lack of scientific evidence showing that trophy hunting reduces human-bear conflicts, but also because of the scientific uncertainty concerning the bear population. Inadequately regulated hunting and other factors nearly extirpated the State's black bear population a few decades ago. Accordingly, several cities and counties in New Jersey have voted to entirely ban bear hunting from their communities. Despite these factors, the 2003 bear hunt resulted in the death of 328 bears.

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