TRENTON-Historically, 2004 may well be called the year of the underdog, the Red Sox broke the curse of Babe Ruth, the Patriots won the Super Bowl and on Dec. 3, the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously voted at the final hour to call off the bear hunt that was scheduled for this past week despite widespread support from Passaic and Sussex County residents and hunters. Nearly 100 people gathered on the State House steps Monday, Dec. 6, to celebrate that cancellation after the Supreme Court ordered that: "The judgment of the Appellate Division is reversed and it is further ordered that the bear hunt cannot take place." What exactly does that mean? It means the state's highest court overturned a Nov. 15 decision in Appeals court to go ahead with the bear hunt. The bear hunt is cancelled while the state establishes a proper management program for bears before they can be hunted. It also means that Commissioner Bradley Campbell could block the hunt by denying permits to hunters for a hunt that was approved last summer. Lynda Smith of the Bear Education and Resource Group B.E.A.R., based in Hewitt, has been fighting to stop the bear hunt. "This time last year we were watching dead cubs coming out of weigh stations during the bear hunt. We are really pleased with the Supreme Court's decision and we thank Commissioner Campbell for his efforts. "We also need to fight to have the Fish and Game council re-configured so that it is not made up with the majority being hunters. Our group works to educate the public on living with bears and using non-lethal methods of population control." Assemblyman Anthony Chiappone (D-Bayonne) who joined the celebration on the State House steps and who introduced legislation to ban black bear hunting in New Jersey said, "The Supreme Court's decision is a victory but we need to have permanent legislation to ban black bear hunting in the state and protect these animals." Dangerous decision Not everyone is happy about the Supreme Court's decision. Sen. Anthony R. Bucco (R-Denville) says: "The Supreme Court's order regarding the cancellation of the bear hunt is both dangerous and improper. Once again, the court has substituted its own personal judgment for the well-established language of the statutory law, and has ignored the legislative history and the clear intent of the Legislature in establishing an independent Fish and Game Council. "The decision is dangerous because, from this moment forward, the commissioner can ignore the informed opinion of the Fish and Game Council and bow to the will of the anti-hunting movement solely on the grounds of political expediency. Decisions regarding wildlife management can now be driven not by biological science, but rather by the whims of extremist anti-hunting groups. "Thanks to the court, the commissioner can not only stop a black bear hunt, but logic dictates that he can therefore forbid the hunting of deer or any other game species. It is time for the Democrat majorities in the legislature to restore the statutory independence of the Fish and Game Council, and cancel the open season that the liberals have declared on New Jersey's sportsmen." Scott Ellis, chairman of the Fish and Game Council said, "I was pretty disappointed with the Supreme Court's decision. I have been on the Fish and Game Council for seven-and a half years. Everything we've done has been by the book. "In 1997 the Division of Fish and Wildlife, with the approval of the Fish and Game Council, the DEP commissioner and the governor of New Jersey formulated the black bear management plan. We have been following the guidelines in that policy. We go to great lengths to follow the law. The Game Council based its decision on Fish and Wildlife's data and that's why we approved the hunt," Ellis said. "Everyone thinks we are just a bunch of blood thirsty hunters but that's just not the case. We also look at non-lethal ways to manage wildlife. Because the commissioner didn't follow the law, the sportsman had to go to court, and the Supreme Court makes a decision that frankly I don't understand. I feel Campbell overstepped his authority but the Supreme Court never addressed that. "I attended all the court hearings and I felt that the Fish and Game Council was also on trial. We were never represented. I asked the attorney general for representation and I was refused." Political motivation charged So what was Campbell's motivation? Scott Ellis says his decision was politically motivated. "Last winter the commissioner told me that he thought the animal rights activists from outside New Jersey would contribute money to work against the re-election of Governor McGreevey. He also said he made promises to animal protection groups. One of those promises was to explore non-lethal means of population control." Did public opposition to the hunt influence Campbell's decision? According to Elaine Makatura, a DEP spokeswoman: "Both hunting and anti-hunting groups have strong opinions. Public disapproval was a factor but it wasn't the sole factor. We do not foresee this decision affecting other hunts like the deer hunt or fishing. Last year was the first hunt in over 30 years. The Commissioner worked with the Fish and Game Council and based on the data presented in 2003 he supported the hunt. Commissioner Campbell will be addressing the Bear hunt issue annually and is not ruling out future hunts. He will always address the issue on an annual basis. We are looking at other options of population control such as educating the public, enforcing the no feeding the bears laws, aversive conditioning and contraception." Problem solved. Right? Give the bears birth control and they will stop making more bears. " Not so," says Joe Crouch state director of the Ted Nugent United Sportsmen of America. "Using contraception on the bear population is ineffective because they are free ranging animals. Male bears can roam up to 60 miles and they are not monogamous. I think if the state wants to give bears contraceptives they should have the animal rights activists pay for it. "It shouldn't come from sportsman's dollars or tax payer's money. Right now they are doing a study with Spay nVac at Great Adventure on about half a dozen bears. It's not accurate because those animals are not free ranging." Crouch adds: "It's sad that New Jersey wildlife is being regulated by lawyers instead of biologists as it has been for the last 50 or so years. The data from the state's biologists clearly showed that we have more of a population than the state can handle. We asked Commissioner Campbell for the source of his population numbers and he has refused." Some 338 bears were killed during the 2003 New Jersey bear hunt, which Campbell approved, to control the bear population and reduce bear-human encounters. The hunt apparently worked as reported bear incidents were down in Passaic and Sussex Counties. In West Milford, Police Chief James Dyskstra had said incidents during the first half of 2004 were down significantly from the comparable period of 2003.