New Jersey Residents Urged To Be On Lookout For Black Bears This Spring

As black bears emerge from their dens this spring, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is reminding residents and outdoor enthusiasts to take steps to reduce the potential for encounters, including reducing food sources, such as unsecured trash, that can attract bears.

In addition, the DEP has secured a contract with a company that will provide nearly 3,000 certified bear-resistant residential trash receptacles for distribution in six municipalities with elevated numbers of bear incident reports as part of the Murphy Administration’s efforts to protect public safety and reduce bear-human encounters.

“Bears have an extremely keen sense of smell. They are actively searching for food as they leave dens. The risk of an unwanted encounter rises if they associate you or your property with food,” NJDEP Fish & Wildlife Assistant Commissioner David Golden said. “People can prevent encounters with bears by removing or properly securing any potential food sources such as trash, pet food or bird seed. It is also critically important for people to never feed black bears. Feeding bears is dangerous, illegal and may result in bears becoming aggressive.”

Reducing Bear-Human Encounters

Building upon previous investments to improve public education and reduce bear-human interactions, the Murphy Administration provided $500,000 in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget to provide certified bear-resistant trash receptacles to residents in municipalities that are being impacted by bear-related nuisances.

The DEP this week executed a contract with Toter LLC, with headquarters in Statesville, N.C., to provide free containers for distribution in Sparta, West Milford, Jefferson, Rockaway, Hardyston and Hampton. The first shipments are expected before the end of the month.

“Certified bear-resistant garbage containers go through rigorous testing and are proven to keep bears out of trash,” said Janine MacGregor, Director of the DEP’s Division of Sustainable Waste.  “Residential use of these containers per manufacturer recommendations is effective at preventing bears from obtaining food from trash.”

To increase awareness of bears and bear safety, NJDEP Fish & Wildlife continues to implement a multimedia Know the Bear Facts black bear safety outreach campaign that includes messages in English and Spanish. The campaign provides bear safety tips and public service announcements on social media, TV streaming services, radio broadcasts, the program’s bear safety webpage and email blasts. The campaign began in March and will run through the fall of 2024 during periods of peak bear activity.

Reducing the presence of trash in unsecured waste containers and other food sources, such as pet food, bird seed or even small livestock, is essential because bears will learn to associate food with people and their homes and begin to forage in neighborhoods for food. This can lead to bears causing property damage, approaching humans for food and becoming dangerous. Intentionally feeding bears is illegal in New Jersey and carries a fine of up to $1,000.

Safety Tips

Most of New Jersey’s black bears live in the northwest portion of the state, particularly Morris, Sussex, Warren and northern Passaic counties, and portions of Hunterdon, Somerset and Bergen counties. However, black bears have been sighted in all of New Jersey’s 21 counties.

It is extremely important to be familiar with ways to avoid encounters and how to safely react if an encounter occurs. The DEP offers the following tips for property owners to minimize conflicts:

  • Secure trash and eliminate obvious sources of food such as pet food bowls, easy-to-reach bird feeders, or food residue left on barbecue grills.
  • 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. Store grills securely.
  • Do not place meat, dairy or any sweet foods in compost piles.
  • Remove fruit or nuts that fall from trees in your yard.
  • Properly install electric fencing as an effective way to protect crops, beehives and livestock.

If you encounter a black bear in your neighborhood or outdoors while hiking or camping, follow these safety tips:

  • Remain calm. Never run from a bear, as this may trigger its predatory instinct. Instead, slowly back away. Avoid direct eye contact, which may be perceived by a bear as a challenge. Make sure the bear has an escape route.
  • To scare the bear away, make loud noises by yelling, using a whistle, banging pots and pans, or blowing an air horn. Make yourself look as big as possible by waving your arms. If you are with someone else, stand close together with your arms raised above your head.
  • Make bears aware of your presence by speaking in an assertive voice, singing, clapping your hands, or making other noises. If hiking through bear country, always make your presence known through loud talking or clapping of hands.
  • If a bear utters a series of huffs, makes popping jaw sounds by snapping its jaws or swats the ground, these are warning signs that you are too close. Slowly back away and avoid direct eye contact. Do not run.
  • If a bear stands on its hind legs or moves closer, it may be trying to get a better view or detect scents in the air. This is usually a non-threatening behavior.
  • Black bears will sometimes “bluff charge” when cornered, threatened, or attempting to steal food. Stand your ground, avoid direct eye contact, slowly back away and do not run.
  • If the bear does not leave, move to a secure area, such as a vehicle or a building.
  • Families who live in areas frequented by black bears should have a “Bear Plan” in place for children, with an escape route and planned use of whistles and air horns.
  • Black bear attacks are extremely rare. If a black bear does attack, fight back.

Report black bear damage or aggressive bears to your local police department or to Fish & Wildlife by calling 1-(877) WARN DEP (1-877-927-6337).

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