TRENTON – As expected, the state Fish and Game Council voted unanimously Tuesday to schedule a bear hunt that will start in three weeks.

Gov. Phil Murphy had barred bear hunting from state lands in 2018 and fully prevented a hunt last year for the first time since 2009. But citing an increase in complaints about bear sightings and dangerous interactions with people, Murphy announced last week the hunt would be brought back.

The Fish and Game Council heard testimony from around 30 people at a meeting at the State Museum, mostly opponents, before authorizing a six-day hunt running from Dec. 5 to 11.

It is likely that the hunt will be extended from Dec. 14 to 17, as well, unless enough bears are killed in the first phase to reach a 20% target. Typically, the hunt gets that extension.

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Anjuli Ramos-Busot, New Jersey director of the Sierra Club, said it was clear the decision had been made before the meeting started and said Murphy’s reversal was unacceptable.

“The decision by the Fish and Game Council to approve a hunt for December is beyond disappointing,” Ramos-Busot said. “The state has failed to effectively implement a nonlethal management plan. Instead, the NJDEP focused on a marketing campaign that completely failed. The state needs to go directly to communities with high bear populations, educate them on smart behavior and provide them with the incentives for better management of trash.”

The council voted to approve the filing of emergency rules, which puts the Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy in effect for 60 days and enables the hunt to be held while the regular rulemaking process proceeds. Another public hearing will be held in January about adopting a permanent CBBMP.

“So, today’s vote will mean be hunting for the for this year and then the next seven years,” said Jeff Tittel, the former Sierra Club director. “This ties the hands of the next governor.”

The process also requires Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette and Murphy to provide their approvals and concurrence. That is a formality agreed to last week.

LaTourette will also have to rescind a 2018 administrative order that made state lands off-limits to hunting, which pushed it for three years to county, local and private land.

The Fish and Game Council also voted for additional restrictions on the hunt that didn’t exist previously, which prohibit killing cubs under 75 or adults traveling with cubs that size and restrict the practice of baiting.

The hunt isn’t statewide. The hunting zones cover all or part of Bergen, Hunterdon, Mercer, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex and Warren counties.

Permits are expected to go on sale Thursday. It is unclear how robust participation will be, given the short notice.

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