WANAQUE, N.J. (CBS 2/WCBS 880/1010 WINS) — Bears beware.

For the first time in five years hunters were out in the wilds of Northwestern New Jersey helping state biologists thin what they say is an exploding bear population.

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Wildlife officials said non-lethal ways of controlling the bear population were too expensive.

1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg reports

WCBS 880’s Levon Putney reports

Many hunters were up before dawn, including Anthony Lingenfelter who wasn’t wasting any time.

“He came out and I took a shot with the muzzleloaders and he ran maybe 20 yards and that was it,” Lingenfelter said.

Protesters, however, let it be known Monday that they opposed the bear hunt.

“Go home cowards. Go home hunters. Go home murderers,” one man shouted outside the Wittingham Wildlife Management Area Weigh Station.

Bill Crain, a college psychology professor from New York, was arrested after stepping past netting set up to keep protesters out.

“They’re restricting us as if this is Nazi Germany,” Crain told CBS 2’s Christine Sloan as he was being arrested.

The first black bear to be brought to the weighing station in Newton, N.J. was an adult male about 6-feet long from head-to-toe. After a physical inspection, wildlife officials realized the bear killed in the New Jersey hunt was actually from Pennsylvania.

“It shows that our populations are not distinct, they’re definitely linked,” an official with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife said.

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State wildlife officials said migration patterns across the Delaware River have no bearing on the need to reduce New Jersey’s population of an estimated 3,400 black bears.

For this hunt the state issued about 6,500 permits. There are four hunting zones, all in the Northwestern corner of the Garden State, where the animals have become increasingly visible and sometimes destructive.

By early afternoon, at least 40 bears had been killed.

“We see them almost everyday,” Gloria Von Atzingen of Country Roads Deli said. “I’m sure they’ve ruined our dumpsters here quite a few times.”

But West Milford resident Jerry DiSanto agrees with animal activists who argue this is an exercise in politics not population control.

“One way or another it’s probably money or political pressure from some people who want it,” he said.

“This hunt is not about safety, it’s not about population, it’s about trophies, rugs and wall mounts,” Susan Kehoe, a Highland Lakes resident, said.

Sloan spoke with some hunters Monday who explained why they were volunteering to kill bears.

“We need to have this season…for the safety of our public,” Vincent Mercurio said.

And when asked what he thought of protesters calling he and fellow hunters “murderers,” Mercurio responded “I guess everybody has their opinion.”

State rules dictate that each hunter is only allowed to kill one bear. The hunt will end in six days.

Animal activists who lost a court battle on Friday to stop the hunt said they will continue to appeal the decision.

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