By Katie Reilly
(Reuters) - New Jersey, the U.S. state most densely populated by humans, is also thick with black bears, and wildlife officials are set to vote on Tuesday on a plan to expand hunting season months after the state's first-ever fatal attack.
New Jersey's northwest corner, less than 60 miles (96 km) from New York City, is home to one of the nation's highest concentrations of black bears, according to Larry Hajna, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
An annual bear hunt lasting six days in December was launched in 2010, when 3,600 bears were counted in the area. But even after five years of culling, the "very productive" New Jersey bear population has surged back to 3,600, he said.
Animal advocates including the Animal Protection League of New Jersey have opposed the plan and urged "ending the madness of this trophy hunt," according to the league's website www.savenjbears.com.
Bear sightings have spiked, and led to the fatal mauling of a Rutgers University student who was hiking in West Milford, New Jersey, in September 2014 and a series of bears being shot dead after breaking into area homes.
Last month, a terrified homeowner responding to a loud noise found a 200-pound (91-kg) bear munching a bag of cat food in the family room of a West Milford residence. Police shot the animal dead.
"We really need to increase the number of bears harvested so that we see a reduction in incidents," Hajna said. "It's better for the bears."
The state DEP's Fish and Game Council on Tuesday will consider a recommendation by environmental officials to expand the geographic area of the hunting zones, Hajna said.
The council will also consider adding an October hunt, knowing that the December hunt is often hampered by bad weather and less animal activity as the bears prepare to hibernate. A second hunt would also allow hunters to take a single bear in each of the seasons, Hajna said.
(Reporting by Katie Reilly in New York; Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Sandra Maler)