An animal rights activist who admitted to helping free a bear from a trap in Vernon has been sentenced to 15 days in jail.
Catherine McCartney, 50, of Vernon, is appealing the sentence imposed Tuesday by Municipal Court Judge James Devine and says she stands by her actions.
“These animals are innocent and so I made the moral decision to let the bear go so he could run back to his mother, and it was the right thing to do,” McCartney said in a statement she read in court, and provided Wednesday to NJ Advance Media.
McCartney was arrested at bear hunt protests in 2016, 2017 and 2018, the New Jersey Herald reported.
She was sentenced to 15 days in jail last fall, but the same judge let her enroll in the Sheriff’s Labor Assistance Program (SLAP) program as an alternative, though she also is appealing that sentence, her attorney said.
McCartney and a second defendant in court Tuesday – Mark Nagelhout, 43, of Park Ridge – were each hit with three summonses in October after helping a young bear escape from a culvert trap at the Great Gorge Village condominium complex.
The New Jersey DEP set up two barrel-shaped culvert traps inside the condominium complex after two residents reported being charged at – but not injured – by a bear in separate incidents. However, the freed bear was younger and not believed to have been involved in either incident, DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said at the time. Animal rights activists dubbed the animal “Momma Bear.”
McCartney and Nagelhout pled guilty to the same two charges – obstructing the administration of law, and prevention of lawful taking of wildlife – according to the municipal court’s deputy administrator, Lindsay Miller.
In her statement to the court, McCartney charged that dumpsters in the area were not bear-proof, and that was the source of the problem.
Both were hit with fines totaling $1,316, Miller said, but Nagelhout – a first-time offender – was not given a jail sentence.
Doris Lin, a attorney for the anti-hunt BEAR Group, represented both in court.
“We believe the penalties are extremely high and will be appealing,” Lin told NJ Advance Media on Wednesday. “This bear cub was crying, and I think a lot of compassionate people would have done the same thing.”
Culvert traps are about 3 feet in diameter and are triggered when the animal pulls at a bait bag, causing a door to close behind it.