Going bearserk in Jersey

An American black bear

Three years ago, guess where the highest density of black bears in the entire country was?

The Northwest Corner of New Jersey. I know, I know, that area is much better known for not being known for anything. But, in the words of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Ragonese, “We were at more than three bears per square mile; it was an out of control situation.”

The bears were getting into people’s trash, even breaking into their homes. So in 2010 the state started an annual week long bear hunt. (For the record, they did other stuff too, including getting people to not leave their trash in places where bears could get it and launching an educational campaign). New Jersey’s fourth consecutive black bear hunt starts today, about a half hour before sunrise.   

It’s great for business if you’re Chuck Rogers, who runs Killer’s Deer Processing. Up to his arms in deer guts, he explains that “The bear hunt brings a lot of guys that wouldn’t necessarily hunt in those areas of New Jersey. Your local delis and diners, their business, the bear hunt bumps it up 25 percent, especially in the northern part of the state.”

It can cost anywhere from $200-$500 to process a bear, and $600 to turn it into a rug. Not to mention mounting it, which many people do. With 5,000 bears hunted last year in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey last year, that adds up to a nice little earner for some businesses.  

And it's had a huge, positive impact on “human-bear interactions,” Larry Ragonese says. Last year, the number of so called “Category 1” incidents -- really aggressive stuff like bears entering homes, was down 43 percent last year. “It’s good for people and it’s good for bears,” he argues.

But not everyone is bullish on the bear hunt, even from a business perspective. “A damn nuisance is what they are," says John Person, who runs Game Butcher in Lebanon, New Jersey.

He says bears take three times as long to process as deer and don’t make him as much money. They are cumbersome to deal with, he says, and they get in the way of his deer business. 

Plus, some hunters don’t really know what they’re getting into sometimes. “They envision a nice bear head rug in front of the fireplace with a glass of wine, but it comes at a price,” Person says, one hunters are not always willing to pay. “I’ve had the guys say, ‘Well can I give you some of the meat for payment,’ I say heck no! They don’t think before they pull that trigger and know how much that money will cost them.”

So really, one way or another, it’s going to be a bear market in Jersey this week. 

About the author

Sabri Ben-Achour is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the New York City bureau. He covers Wall Street, finance, and anything New York and money related.

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