When the first part of bear hunting season opens on Monday, the woods around New Jersey could be a few thousand hunters lighter than they were last year.

After Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order banning the hunting of bears on state lands, only a little more than 3,000 of the state's 11,000 bear hunting permits have been sold, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. Last year, 8,790 permits were sold, and more than 5,500 had been sold by the end of September.

Murphy's executive order came after he found he couldn't legally fulfill a campaign promise and cancel the bear hunt entirely on his own. The order covers state forests, parks, recreation areas, historic sites, and other natural areas in the northern parts of the state. The Sierra Club estimated the order covers around 700,000 acres of land, though that includes parts not included in the bear-hunt zone.

The October portion of bear hunting season runs from Oct. 8 through the 13. The first three days are reserved strictly for archers, while the last three days are for both archers and rifle hunters. Permits are sold for a specific area of the five bear hunting zones, and hunters are only allowed one bear in the October portion of the hunt.

Former state Sen. Ray Lesniak has made stopping the bear hunt one of the focuses of his Lesniak Institute for American Leadership at Kean University. The institute "develops the next generation of American leaders, and partners with grassroots leaders from across the country, to advocate for social justice."

On its website, the institute says it is "working to prevent the extinction of the New Jersey Black Bear population by ending bear hunting and implementing non-lethal methods of bear management." The institute calls the bear hunt "inhumane."

"The practice of luring bears to a specific location by leaving food over the course of days or weeks in order to draw it back to the same location to be hunted during hunting season is immoral and equivalent to shooting fish in a barrel and is not a sport," the institute says.

Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club, called Murphy's executive order "the first time we had a governor in eight years that's actually looking at trying to do something about the bear hunt."

"However, the concern we have is that just by not allowing the hunt on state lands, it may shift the hunt to other lands and so the number of bears that actually get killed may not change," he said. "It's a step, but we think the governor should keep his commitment to having a moratorium for a bear hunt on all lands, not just state lands."

The governor has said that his hands are tied in terms of ending the bear hunt, which is regulated by the state Fish and Game council, and is authorized through 2021.

After the October bear hunt a second segment is scheduled to be held from Dec. 3 through 8. Both sections of the hunt can be closed early if the hunters reach a harvest rate of 30 percent of tagged bears.

Over the last eight years more than 3,400 bears have been killed, for an average of about 430 each year.

Previous reporting by Michael Symons was included in this story

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