New Jersey Bear Information 2022

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Black Bears are not Teddy Bears.© Brooklyn Muse

Bears are the largest land mammal found in New Jersey. New Jersey black bears are located primarily within Sussex, Passaic, Hunterdon, Somerset, Warren, and Morris Counties. They enjoy living free within hardwood forests, wetlands, and dense swamps. They choose places with heavy foliage and brush for their habitat.

Black bears ( Ursus Americanus) are a bit smaller and have a lower shoulder hump, longer ears, and shorter, straight claws than brown bears ( Ursus arctos). Brown bears also have a much more prominent ridge across the forehead between the eyes.

Within the forested areas of northwestern New Jersey, the black bear population has been expanding both southward and eastward. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has documented 374 bear encounters to date this year, which is more than twice the 168 incidents during the first few months of 2021. These situations included interaction with garbage cans (99), nuisance ( 93), or attacking livestock that was protected (23). Simple “sightings” include bears taking dips in pools or strolling through neighborhoods.

Over the years the increase in human interaction with bears raised significant concerns within various communities. This increased attention to the New Jersey Bear Hunt in 2018. At that time, Governor Phil Murphy closed state-owned lands to hunters which significantly reduced the number of bears injured or killed. The bear hunt in New Jersey was totally banned in 2021.

Black bears are noted to have healthy offspring. An average female will have two cubs every other year. According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, both cubs will usually survive. This population increase is similar to the growth of the white-tailed deer in New Jersey. Black bears are very protective of their cubs. When the cubs are ready to travel, they may wander up to 100 miles from their mothers. This increases the scope of the bear’s original habitat. Individuals need to be wary and alert for bears on their walks and outings.

Duane Diefenbach, a professor of wildlife ecology at Penn State, studies the black bear population in NJ. Diefenbach notes that black bears want your food. They are attracted to various areas by the odor of food sources. They are experts at finding nourishment and do not discriminate against anything they eat. According to NJ Advance Media, Diefenbach said, “If it’s digestible, a black bear will eat it.”

Awareness of your surroundings is imperative for safety. The following tips may aid you in your secure enjoyment of New Jersey’s beautiful outdoors.

Important Bear Safety Tips

Do not feed or approach a bear. They are wild, dangerous animals.
Remain calm. Running may trigger a chase response.

If a bear is feeding, again- do not approach. It will steadfastly defend its food source.

Make the bear aware of your presence from a safe distance. Clap, sing, shout- make noise.

Make sure the bear has an escape route and it is not by you.

Avoid eye contact. It may be interpreted as a challenge.

Back away slowly.

If you are with someone, stand together arms raised, making yourself look as huge as possible.

If the bear huffs and makes jaw-popping sounds, it is warning you that you are too close. Back away.

Report black bear damage or nuisance behavior to the DEP's 24-hour, toll-free hotline

1-877-WARN DEP (1-877-927-6337).

Attacks are very rare. If attacked fight back punching the snout and eyes. Use anything rocks, knife, sticks, backpack, and kick.

Stay Safe and enjoy New Jersey outdoors.

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