TRENTON — New Jersey’s black bears are starting to fatten up for winter hibernation and will more actively forage for food in the coming weeks. So, state residents, especially those living in bear country, are reminded by DEP fish and wildlife biologists to remove food sources from around their homes to prevent difficult encounters with bears this fall.
By taking simple precautions, such as properly securing trash and limiting sources of food, such as birdseed and pet food left on decks and patios, you can make a major difference in reducing the risk of bad encounters with black bears.
“If you live in areas frequented by bears, try to ensure they will not find food near your homes,” said Commissioner Bob Martin. “Bears will naturally take advantage of easy meals by searching through unsecured garbage cans and dumpsters, or raiding birdfeeders. This can lead to problems for the bears and the community.”
In New Jersey, it’s illegal to feed black bears, and violators face a penalty of up to $1,000 for each offense.
But even unintentional feeding, by leaving out trash or other food sources, can have serious consequences for residents living in bear country, and also for the bears.
Black bears will take advantage of an easy meal and often return to an area where they find food around people’s homes, said DEP Division of Fish and Wildlife Assistant Director Larry Herrighty. Bears that learn to associate food with people can become a nuisance, are more likely to damage property or exhibit aggression, and may have to be destroyed to protect the public.
A majority of New Jersey’s rising black bear population lives in the northwestern portion of the state, but sightings have been reported in all 21 counties, with increased sightings in more urban areas in recent months. But the mere presence of a black bear in residential areas is not considered a problem, if a bear is exhibiting normal behavior.
The DEP offers the following tips to avoid conflicts with bears:
Residents who encounter a bear should remain calm. Do not block a bear’s potential escape routes. Do not run. Do not feed the bear. Avoid direct eye contact, back up slowly and speak with a low, assertive voice.
Residents living in areas frequented by bears are also advised to take the following precautions to minimize bear encounters:
- Never feed a black bear.
- Use certified bear-resistant garbage containers. They offer the best protection. Otherwise, store all garbage in containers with tight-fitting lids and place them within a secure location, where bears are unlikely to see or smell them.
- Put out garbage on collection day, not the night before.
- Wash garbage containers frequently with a disinfectant solution to remove odors. Draping rags soaked in bleach over your garbage containers also helps to eliminate odors.
- If you choose to feed birds, do so during daylight hours only, between December 1 and April 1, when bears are least active. Suspend the birdfeeder from a free-hanging wire, making sure it’s at least 10 feet off the ground and away from the trunk of a tree. Bring the feeder indoors at night. Clean up spilled seeds and shells daily.
- Clean up after pets. If you must feed them outside, immediately pick up any leftover food and remove the food bowls after they have finished.
- Clean outdoor grills and utensils thoroughly after each use and store grills securely. Grease and food residue can attract bears.
- Do not place meat, dairy or any sweet foods in compost piles.
- Residents who have fruit or nut trees on their property should recognize that bears may be attracted to any residual fruit or nuts left on the ground. Removing fallen fruit or nuts will minimize bear activity in your yard.
- Properly installed electric fencing is an effective and efficient way of protecting crops, beehives and livestock.
- Report bear damage, nuisance behavior or aggressive bears to the local police department and to the DEP’s hotline at (877) WARN DEP.
The New Jersey Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy developed by the state’s Fish and Game Council and approved by Commissioner Martin emphasizes managing black bears through research and monitoring, non-lethal and lethal control of problem bears, public education on co-existing with bears, law enforcement to reduce conflicts between bears and people, and a controlled hunt.
Read the Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy and learn more about New Jersey’s black bears: www.njfishandwildlife.com/bearfacts.htm.
In addition to brochures and other information about living with black bears, the DEP provides free bear education seminars to schools and civic groups.
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