TRENTON – Black bears have emerged from winter dens and are entering their most active period of the year in search of food and mates, which makes encounters with humans in populated areas more likely. Even though overall bear sightings and encounters are declining again this year, New Jersey residents, particularly those living in “bear country’’ in northwest New Jersey, are advised to take a few simple precautions this spring to reduce the risk of potential encounters.
“The Christie Administration’s Comprehensive Black Bear Management Plan, aimed at reducing bear-human encounters through a mix of education, research and monitoring, trash management and an annual bear hunt, is proving to be effective. Black bear sighting and incidents, which dropped last year, are down substantially again this year,’’ said Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bob Martin.
“But even with this initial success, state residents can further reduce the risk of interactions with bears this spring by taking a few commonsense steps. Most importantly, do not feed bears, either intentionally or unintentionally,” added Martin.
Bears that learn to associate food with people, and their homes and living areas, can turn into nuisance bears that regularly forage in neighborhoods looking for easy sources of food. The result is sometimes troubling bear-human encounters.
It is illegal to intentionally feed black bears in New Jersey and punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 per offense. But the more common problem is unintentional bear feeding by homeowners who unknowingly make household trash, pet foods and other food sources easily available for bears to find and eat.
“Securing your trash and eliminating obvious sources of food for bears, such as pet food left on decks, bird feeders or food residues left in barbecue grills, is the best way to keep bears from being attracted to your home or property,” said David Chanda, director of the State Division of Fish and Wildlife.
Bears have been sighted in all 21 New Jersey counties, and bear-human encounters have occurred a bit more frequently in recent years in places outside of traditional bear country, including more heavily populated suburban areas of the state.
To deal with that issue, a New Jersey Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy was developed by the state’s Fish and Game Council and approved by Commissioner Martin. Results of that policy over its first three years have been a reduction in bear sightings and damage and complaints filed by residents. As part of that policy, biologists continue to actively study, monitor and manage the state’s black bear population to ensure the bear population remains healthy, and to reduce negative encounters between bears and people.
DEP wildlife experts stress that a black bear passing through a residential area should not be considered a problem, as long as it is behaving normally and not posing a threat. They offer the following tips to minimize conflicts with bears this spring:
- Use certified bear-resistant garbage containers if possible. Otherwise, store all garbage in containers with tight-fitting lids and place them along the inside walls of your garage, or in the basement, a sturdy shed or other secure area.
- Wash garbage containers frequently with a disinfectant solution to remove odors. Put out garbage on collection day, not the night before.
- Avoid feeding birds when bears are active. If you choose to feed birds, do so during daylight hours only and bring feeders indoors at night. Suspend birdfeeders from a free-hanging wire, making sure they are at least 10 feet off the ground. Clean up spilled seeds and shells daily.
- Immediately remove all uneaten food and food bowls used by pets fed outdoors.
- Clean outdoor grills and utensils to remove food and grease residue to minimize odors. Store grills securely.
- Do not place meat or any sweet foods in compost piles.
- Remove fruit or nuts that fall from trees in your yard.
- Properly installed electric fencing is an effective way of protecting crops, beehives and livestock.
- If you encounter a bear remain calm and do not run. Make sure the bear has an escape route. Avoid direct eye contact, back up slowly and speak with a low, assertive voice.
Report bear damage, nuisance behavior or aggressive bears to the Wildlife Control Unit of the DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife at (908) 735-8793. During evenings and weekends, residents should call their local police department or the DEP Hotline at (877) WARN-DEP.
To learn more about New Jersey’s black bears and ways to avoid problems with them, visit http://www.njfishandwildlife.
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