New Jersey’s bear management plan expires after one last round of hunts this fall, but that hasn’t stopped groups for and against hunting from pursuing legal options for either expanding it or ending it early.

Hunt proponents have a date before an administrative law judge next month as they try to override restrictions imposed by Gov. Phil Murphy that block them from state lands. Opponents last week filed a rulemaking petition they hope compels Murphy to revoke the bear plan and terminate the hunt.

And opponents have a new argument to add to their more familiar ones – that a hunt shouldn’t be conducted during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We believe that with unnecessary activities being canceled and restricted because of COVID it just makes sense to cancel the bear hunt,” said Doris Lin, director of legal affairs for the League of Humane Voters of New Jersey.

Twelve groups argue to the Murphy administration that the bear-hunt rules don’t require hunters who are ill to stay home, recommend but cannot assure social distancing and will put state workers’ health at risk at weigh stations.

“And bears are so big, a single hunter can’t drag a bear out of the woods,” Lin said. “They’ve got to get a bunch of buddies to help them.”

An antelope hunt in Wyoming has been cancelled after several teams backed out due to travel complications related to COVID-19.

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New Jersey Outdoor Alliance vice president Cody McLaughlin called the COVID-related objections “frankly ridiculous scare tactics.” He said people are expected to stand in lines at Motor Vehicle Commission agencies for full days but somehow two people working at a weigh station is a danger.

“It’s abject nonsense. Look, this is political opportunism at its best,” he said. “These people, the Governor’s Office included, are colluding with these extremists and they’re trying their best to grasp at straws because they know that people are starting to realize – these increases in complaints and the guy getting mauled and everything are clear and unambiguous evidence that the bear hunt was working and we need it reinstated.”

A West Milford man was attacked by a bear in his garage on July 26 and required 36 stitches to his face. The bear was later captured and euthanized.

The New Jersey Outdoor Alliance challenge to Murphy’s order barring the hunt from state lands is scheduled to be heard Sept. 21.

Under the rulemaking petition filed by hunt opponents, the Murphy administration has 60 days to respond. It could either grant or deny the petition or ask for more time. But even if it’s granted, that would start a process that takes time and probably wouldn’t be done before bowhunting in October.

“I think it would be very unlikely to stop the October hunt because it would have to go through the rulemaking procedures, including publication in the New Jersey Register,” Lin said.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.