BY ERIKA NORTON

Hunters harvested a total of 243 bears and state police arrested five protesters during the first segment of the state's annual bear hunt last week. The total of bears killed was less than half the number of bears taken during last year's ctober hunt.

Last week’s hunt — which took place from Oct. 9 to Oct. 14 — allowed archery only for the first three days and muzzleloading rifles allowed the second half of the hunt. It was the second time an October bear hunt was allowed since the state resumed annual hunts in 2010.

According to numbers from the Division of Fish and Wildlife, last year, the total amount of bears killed after the October hunt was 562, more than double this year’s total. There are number of reasons why the number was dramatically lower this year, according to New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson Robert Geist.

“The early part of the week was rainy with the remnants of Hurricane Nate coming through the northwest part of New Jersey,” Geist said. “Plus the temperatures were also anywhere from two to ten degrees warmer than normal, being the 60s, it was actually low to high 70s, which tends to make bears less active.

“And plus, we’ve also gotten some reports that there were an abnormal amount of food on the ground in terms of acorns and other things like that for the bears to be able to get to so they wouldn’t be traveling as far and getting into areas where hunters might be.”

While officials say the annual hunts help control the black bear population and minimize run-ins with humans, the New Jersey Sierra Club, which has been a vocal opponent of the bear hunt, said the low number of bears harvested this year shows that the hunt is inhumane and unnecessary.

“The record low numbers of this year’s hunt show that the DEP must cancel the December portion of the hunt,” said Director of the NJ Sierra Club Jeff Tittel in a statement. “This shows that there are fewer bears in the woods and the hunt was completely unneeded and unnecessary for controlling the population.

“There were also fewer interactions between humans and bears or nuisance encounters,” Tittel continued. “We have likely overharvested black bears in the state and additional hunting may be disastrous to their population.”

A total of 136 bears were killed in Sussex County, the highest amount killed in any county during the six-day hunt. In Warren County, 49 bears were killed, with 20 bears in Passaic County, 34 in Morris County, one in Bergen County and three in Hunterdon County.

Five protesters arrestedThroughout the week, while state police were monitoring the hunt, they arrested five protesters. On the first day of the hunt, police arrested Catherine McCartney, 49, of Highland Lakes and Jerome Mandel, 72, of Newton.

Then the last day of the hunt, police three more protesters: Dr. William Crain, 72, of New York City, Cheryl A. Monnett, 48, of West Milford and Danielle Varon, 50, of Vernon.

Each were arrested at Whittingham Wildlife Management Area, located in Green and Fredon Townships, and were charged with three charges from NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife's Bureau of Law Enforcement.

They are charged with purposely obstructing the administration of law by physical interference, recklessly creating a hazardous or dangerous condition by not staying in a designated area at the Whittingham Wildlife Management Area and using the Wildlife Management Area contrary to regulation.

All five will appear in local municipal court.

This is the sixth time Crain has been arrested during the bear hunt, according to published reports. Crain was fined in each of his first six arrests and was sentenced to jail in 2016, spending 10 days at the Sussex County Keogh-Dwyer Correctional Facility.

Looking ahead The second segment of the annual bear hunt will be held from Dec. 4 to 9 during the shotgun deer season. This segment is limited to shotguns and muzzleloading rifles.

However, depending on the outcome of the November election, this year’s hunts could be the last for a while. Phil Murphy, the Democrat running for New Jersey governor, has said he plans to enact a moratorium on the hunts.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, says the hunts should continue.