Monday, September 13, 2010

Encounters With Black Bears

New Jersey's black bears have their most active period in the spring when they search for food and mates, but there is still plenty of time to encounter them this fall.

The bears are preparing for winter and we are outside cleaning up the garden, walking in the woods and stocking our bird feeders.

Ten years ago, I was working with the Essex County 4-H and running an equestrian group. The group, which included one of my sons, was made up of novice riders in their early and mid-teens. We were riding the trails at Echo Lake Stables in Newfoundland, NJ.

They were novice riders but the horses were experienced trail horses. Still, when we encountered a few bears, horses and riders were equally novice.

The horses reacted first, smelling the two bears, and took off for the stable. We are inadvertently separated a mother and her cub by following the trail. The mother stood up and snorted, but thankfully didn't approach us or pursue us.

We should expect to see black bears in northern NJ when we are out in the woods. But you are just as likely to encounter them in backyards and small wooded lots in the northern part of the state.
“A black bear seen in a residential area should not be considered a problem, as long as it is behaving normally and not posing a threat,” says NJ DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. “However, bears that learn to associate food with people can become habituated to easy sources of food and become a nuisance as they forage for more. So the best thing to do is to not give bears the opportunity to equate you or your property with food.

Feeding a bear is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 per offense.

The proposed 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.

Bear in Paramus via
Here are some of the State's suggestions for avoiding conflicts with bears.

Providing NJ bears with an alternative to their natural food foraging is a big part of deterring them from your living area.

  1. 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. 
  2. Wash garbage containers frequently with a disinfectant solution to remove odors. Put out garbage on collection day, not the night before.
  3. 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.
  4. Immediately remove all uneaten food and food bowls used by pets fed outdoors.
  5. Clean outdoor grills and utensils to remove food and grease residue to minimize odors. Store grills securely.
  6. Do not place meat or any sweet foods in compost piles.
  7. Remove fruit or nuts that fall from trees in your yard.

Black bear attacks are extremely rare. These are not grizzly bears. Should a black bear attack, fight back. Do not play dead.

If you do encounter a bear:
  • remain calm
  • do not run
  • make sure the bear has an escape route - don't block its path
  • 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

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