Home > Uncategorized > Bergen Record Exposes Murphy DEP Bear Hunt Secrecy Proposal

Bergen Record Exposes Murphy DEP Bear Hunt Secrecy Proposal


Activists should reach out to legislators and seek oversight hearings and a legislative veto of the rule as inconsistent with legislative intent under OPRA and NJ State wildlife laws.

Veteran reporter Rich Cowen of the Bergen Record wrote a killer story today, exposing the Murphy DEP’s scheme to throw a huge secrecy blanket over their black bear data, science, and management, read the whole thing:

We broke this story back on March 4 and I more recently spoke with Cowen, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was not only given a quote but a link to the original Wolfenotes post.

In that post, I criticized the proposal for improperly targeting anti-hunt protesters and lacking any factual justification:

Using secrecy to frustrate the exercise of constitutionally protected activities under the guise of protecting public safety is a disgrace….

This proposed [OPRA] exemption seems not only very broad, but poorly justified – there are literally no facts or evidence provided to justify the proposal.

So I was stunned to read that DEP confirmed that the proposal specifically targeted anti-hunt protesters: (Record)

DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said the intent is to keep people from interfering with wildlife management. He pointed to an incident last October, when two anti-hunt protesters, Catheine McCartney, 50, and Mark Nagelhout, 43, were arrested for freeing a bear cub from a trap that Fish and Wildlife had set outside a condominium complex in Vernon. Both were recently found guilty in Vernon Municipal Court of obstructing a government function.

But as I suspected, when asked by Cowen, DEP failed to provide any science based justification for the proposal and did not defend their total failure to consult with and include the public prior to proposing the rule.

DEP also refused to even respond to questions Cowen asked them. I was very pleased to see Cowen call them out for this underhanded stonewalling:

When questioned, the DEP itself has been less than forthcoming about the potential impacts of the rule change. [DEP’s] Hajna declined to answer any specific questions about the change, and also would not comment on whether the department had done its best to engage the public. 

Of course DEP refused to comment – they not only had not “done their best to engage the public”, they intentionally shut out the public. And Cowen did a good job in exposing that bad faith as well:

Bill Wolfe, a former DEP official who now writes a blog, WolfeNotes.com, recently wrote a letter to DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe asking her to re-open the public hearing. He cited Executive Order No. 2 signed by Governor Christie and still in force, that requires the agency to aggressively reach out to the various stakeholders and interested parties to gather as much input as possible.

Wolfe said the process has been marred by a lack of transparency.

“The public has been blindsided by this,” Wolfe said. “The bear hunt has been a controversy in this state for what, 15 years? There’s been protests, litigation, people getting arrested. It’s unprecedented that a rule of this significance would get no public input at all.”

Wolfe said the rule would undoubtedly favor hunters by giving property owners special access to information that was once available to everyone.

We don’t often get such good coverage and rarely do reporters call out the DEP press office for stonewalling them.

In my letter to DEP Commissioner McCabe, I was just trying to buy some time to build public awareness, media coverage and opposition to emerge and organize.

In terms of next steps, activists should understand that DEP is not likely to extend the public comment period and hold another public hearing, and even less likely withdraw this proposal.

Once a rule is proposed, it is hard for DEP to admit they were wrong and walk it back. The best they could hope for would be for DEP to just quietly let it expire after 1 year.

But activists should not passively wait and see.

They should organize, agitate, and reach out to legislators and seek oversight hearings and a legislative veto of the rule as inconsistent with legislative intent under OPRA and NJ State wildlife laws.

I don’t know her position on the bear hunt, but Senator Weinberg has been a leader on OPRA reforms so folks might want to contact her.

More to follow on the arguments to support those legislative veto requests.

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