WEST MILFORD Bureaucrats won't venture an election year opinion, but bear reports are lower according to the police department here and according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. According to Police Chief James R. Dykstra, total reported bear incidents here are at 57, through the end of July, compared to a total of 140 for the January through July period of 2003. June, 2003, alone had 50 bear complaints, compared to just seven for June, 2004. "They're still out there, they're not extinct," the chief cautions, while adding that the department is without "conditioning" calls in which police drive away a nuisance bear with sirens or even rubber bullets. Statewide, its' the same story. "bear incidents are down," says Elaine Makatura, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the parent agency of the Fish and Wildlife department which oversees hunting and responds to problem bears. Total sightings' from January through May, 2004, were 175, compared to the same period of 2003 in which there were 350 sightings,' Makatura said. While neither year's numbers seem that high, it's because the state breaks down total incidents into sightings' and nuisance complaints.' For the January through May, 2004 period, there were 405 nuisance complaints, slightly more than half the number, or 713, nuisance complaints in the five-month period in 2003.Are the numbers down? Makatura, who's boss, Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell has flip-flopped on the bear hunt issue, won't say. "It doesn't have any direct correlation, it could be the hunt," Makatura concedes, "or the weather or food. There's a lot of (wild) food available this year." According to the Associated Press: "Campbell supported the first hunt, but has since urged greater use of public awareness programs and more stringent enforcement of a state law prohibiting the feeding of bears, and requiring home and business owners to secure trash receptacles. The six-day hunt in 2003 was held to help reduce what was believed to be a burgeoning bear population estimated then at 3,200 and an alarming increase in bear-human encounters. State wildlife officials say 328 bears were killed in last year's hunt, and said Tuesday that about 500 cubs were expected to be born this year." For anyone doing the math, that means the bear population has grown to 3,372 bears, despite the effects of the bear hunt. Scott Ellis, chairman of the state Fish and Game Council feels the hunt had an impact. I certainly think that it would be a factor. "As far as I know there will be a bear hunt this year as there was last year," said Ellis. The council has already voted to conduct a bear hunt this year. That hunt will go forward despite the DEP commissioner's opposition. "There's no reason for us to believe the permits will not be issued as usual. He says he won't issue permits, but he hasn't not issued any yet. It's a long time between now and the bear season and anything can happen," says Ellis. The council is the rule-making body that updates and revises the fish and game code on a yearly basis. The 11 members are picked from various sources. Three farmers, one each from north, central and south Jersey are elected "at the state agricultural convention and appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the senate," Ellis explains. Likewise, six sportsmen, two from each region, are elected by the state federation of sportsmen's clubs during its convention. They undergo a similar ratification process, as does "one public member with knowledge of soil conservation and land use practices." Ellis, the farmer member from Central Jersey, says "Whatever we do, we are mandated by law to use scientific facts and information to make our decisions. We receive that from Fish And Wildlife's professional biologists. It's rare to make a change in the game code that division staff biologists don't approve. Asked if anyone has authority to veto the council's decisions, Ellis responded: "No one has authority to override. What I should have said was I don't see any legal reason not to have a bear hunt." Efforts to reach Lynda Smith, head of the West Milford-based Bear Education And Resource Group which opposed the hunt, were unsuccessful. "Nuisance reports aren't scientific," asserts Eric Bunk of West Milford, the North Jersey area director of the Ted Nugent United Sportsmen of America, a pro-hunting group.