N.J. bill would expand beaver trapping

Posted: January 14, 2015

TRENTON - A New Jersey Senate panel advanced legislation Monday that would lift a cap on the number of permits the state may issue for beaver trapping, despite objections from animal-rights and environmental groups.

The Environment and Energy Committee also voted in favor of bills that would eliminate a ban on Sunday hunting and establish new apprentice hunting licenses for minors.

The bills move to the full Senate for a vote and also need Assembly approval.

Under current law, the Division of Fish and Wildlife may issue up to 200 permits for the beaver hunting season, which runs from Dec. 26 to Feb. 9. If demand exceeds supply, the division holds a lottery. Trappers are limited to eight beavers per permit.

This season, the division received 457 applications, up from 423 the previous year and 362 the year before, according to a division spokesman.

A bill sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) and Sen. Steven Oroho (R., Sussex) would give the state discretion to increase or decrease the number of permits it issues, based on fluctuation in the beaver population and the demand for trapping.

This would bring the administration of beaver permitting in line with regulation of other game, such as deer, officials said.

"We have serious problems where I live - very serious problems," said Sweeney, whose district includes parts of Gloucester, Salem, and Cumberland Counties.

"The beaver population has exploded. It's caused problems" such as flooding, he said.

The state does not track the size of the beaver population - it will begin doing so this year, the Fish and Wildlife spokesman said - but Sen. Bob Smith (D., Middlesex), the committee's chair, estimated that there were 2,000 to 3,000 beavers in New Jersey.

In the 2012-13 season, trappers harvested 708 beavers, according to the most recent data available compiled by the division. There were 170 active beaver trappers that year, according to the division.

Bill Cutts, a Burlington County cranberry farmer, told lawmakers there was "no shortage of beaver in the heart of the Pinelands."

"They force water over dams, which washes out dams," he said. "They make it difficult for us to get water in a timely fashion at critical times."

He said a trapper had applied for a permit to trap on his farm but did not get one in the lottery. "I need to farm," Cutts said. "I don't need to be out there trying to eliminate beaver."

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said beavers were an important part of the ecosystem. The bill does not contain adequate protections to ensure the beaver harvest is sustainable, Tittel said.

Beavers "help recharge wetlands and create habitat for other species," he said.

Doris Lin, legislative district director for the League of Humane Voters of New Jersey, said nothing in current law prevents the state from issuing fewer than 200 permits.

Therefore, she and others said, they fear the bill is designed to crack down on the beaver population.

Kathleen Schatzmann of the Humane Society said that rather than sanctioning more beaver trapping, the state could invest in water-flow control devices to solve flooding problems.

The committee advanced the bill on a 3-2 vote. By the same vote, it favored a bill that would lift the state's ban on Sunday hunting.

The bill would not extend the length of any particular hunting season, which varies by game species, or change the number of animals each licensed hunter may trap.

"New Jersey's Sunday hunting ban prevents a lot of hardworking people from being able to hunt or forces them on their day off to travel to other states to hunt and otherwise spend their money," Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R., Monmouth) said in a statement.

Tittel said his group organizes 200 hikes a year, all held on Sundays to avoid hunters.

In addition to posing safety issues, the bill harms the quality of life in the Garden State, Tittel said.

"It's also about who gets to enjoy the woods," he said.

"When you're trying to hike in the middle of the forest and you hear shotguns, it takes away from that experience if you're there to enjoy nature and relax."

Also on Monday, the environment panel voted by 3-1, with one abstention, to approve a bill that would allow minors ages 11 to 15 to hunt without having taken a safety course, provided they are accompanied by a licensed hunter who is 21 or older.

These apprentice licenses would expire after one year, and youths would be limited to two such permits in their life.

Supporters said the bill would expand hunting opportunities for youths who might not otherwise take up the sport.

Tittel called it the "shoot first, train later" bill.