WEST MILFORD-"To hunt, or not to hunt, that is the question" might well be William Shakespeare's comment on the tenuous state of the black bear hunt proposed for December. Black bears were in West Milford long before the community grew from a tiny hamlet to a thriving township, but today's reality is that, with more than 10,000 homes in its 80 square miles, people are here to stay. It's a fact the bears still don't grasp. With two thirds of the township's land owned by either the state or the Newark Watershed Authority, bears are free to roam, and roam they do. Unfortunately, they often roam through residents' yards, rummage through garbage barrels, empty bird feeders, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. The black bears can also pose real threats: a woman attacked in Waywayanda State Park; a family threatened in the Hewitt section, and numerous other incidents, including, earlier this month, a Blairstown incident in which Boy Scouts were mauled by a black bear sow and her cubs. In 2003 the police department handled hundreds of bear complaints. This year, the numbers declined, apparently due in part to the December, 2003, bear hunt that thinned the state's bear population by some 328 bears. Biologists at the state's Division of Fish and Wildlife said another hunt was needed this year. The official decision-making body, the Fish and Game Council, agreed and approved a bear hunt. The biologists' boss, Commissioner Bradley Campbell of the Department of Environmental Protection, with support of then Governor Jim McGreevey, disagreed and refused to issue permits. McGreevey resigned in disgrace, and Campbell is fighting to prevent the hunt. Opposing him in the lawsuit are: The U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance Foundation; New Jersey State Federation Of Sportsmen's Clubs; Gerald Mccusker; Anthony Cali; And Edward O'Sullivan. The commissioner's opposition may have come as a surprise to the state's sportsmen as "Campbell supported last year's bear hunt, the first in New Jersey in 33 years, but has said he now wants to pursue alternative methods for managing the bear population," according to the Associated Press (AP). With the hunt slated for early December, the issue remains undecided. On Nov. 16, the state's Superior Court Appellate Division ruled Campbell lacked authority to "subvert the council's authorization of a hunt by such a directive." The court further noted that "In 2003, the Fish and Game Council authorized the firstbear hunt in New Jersey since 1970. The Council's decision to authorize this hunt was based on reports of bears colliding with motor vehicles, destroying beehives and agricultural crops, killing livestock and pets, entering homes and attacking humans and the Division's estimate that there are more than 3,000 bears in the state, primarily in the northwestern counties." They noted the Division's post-hunt report found "there were 1,490 bears in a 580-square mile section of the bear's habitat in northwestern New Jersey," and that far exceeds the division's "1997 [Black Bear Management Plan] (which) set a target density of one bear per every 2.5 square miles." Campbell didn't like the ruling and has asked the state Supreme Court to rule on the matter. But, the state has a new acting govcard game. That player, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, comes with a big pot in hand, some $2 million in annual conservation funding. As a result, acting Governor Richard Codey has indicated that state lands will remain open to bear hunting. That came after Codey learned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would withhold $2 million in federal conservation funding if the scheduled bear hunt is prohibited on state lands, as has been threatened, reportedly said the Gannett News Service State Bureau. Federal wildlife officials have warned the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife that closing state lands that were intended for hunting and had been purchased or maintained with federal sportsmen's dollars constitutes a violation that puts the state in jeopardy of losing federal funding, according to the sportsmen's foundation. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service distributes excise taxes on sporting arms and ammunition to state wildlife agencies to aid in habitat restoration and other wildlife conservation programs. "It is a welcome sign that Governor Codey is not willing to sacrifice conservation programs to support the DEP Commissioner's private war to rule the New Jersey Fish and Game Council," said Rob Sexton U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance Foundation's vice president for government affairs. "Perhaps now the door is open for the new governor to meet with sportsmen leaders to discuss the future of fish and wildlife programs including hunting and angling." In the Warren County incident, the Associated Press reported the "two Boy Scouts' encounter with three bears in Warren County was more serious than initially reported. The incident involving two 60-pound cubs and a mother bear... at the Yards Creek Scout Reservation in Blairstown." The incident happened some two weeks ago, but initially failed to be properly disclosed by the DEP. The state Department of Environmental Protection did not release results of an internal investigation of the incident until Friday afternoon, Nov. 19, citing a delay in consulting with the Division of Fish and Wildlife officer who made the original report, said the Associated Press. Hunter groups have questioned the delay, but a DEP spokeswoman denied there was any attempt to withhold news of the incident, says the AP.