The American Black Bear is native to New Jersey. Prior to European settlement, black bears lived in forested regions throughout the state. As European settlement progressed, forests were cleared for towns, farming and lumber. Black bears were killed indiscriminately by settlers to protect their crops and livestock. Loss of habitat and indiscriminate killing caused the black bear population to sharply decline throughout the 1800s; by the mid-1900s less than 100 remained and these were restricted to the northern portion of the State (Lund 1980, McConnell et al. 1997.
In 1953, the New Jersey Fish and Game Council (Council) classified the black bear as a game animal, affording it protection from indiscriminate killing. Limited hunting was legal for black bear until 1971 when the Council, based on an assessment by Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) biologists, closed the hunting season.
Since the late 1970s, the Garden State's black bear population has been increasing and expanding its range from the forested areas of northwestern New Jersey both southward and eastward. The population has grown due to protection afforded by game animal status, increased black bear habitat as agricultural land reverted to mature forests, and bears moving into New Jersey because of increasing bear populations in Pennsylvania and New York. Though most numerous in northwest Jersey, black bears now live throughout the state.
During the last 30 years, the DFW has steadily increased its efforts to responsibly manage our large and expanding black bear population and to be responsive to the increasing conflicts between bears and people. Since Fiscal Year 2001, DFW has spent more than $9 million on black bear management, including $5.5 million of general treasury funds and $3.5 million from the Hunter and Angler Fund and federal grants.
In 2010 the Council drafted a Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy (CBBMP) to guide the future management of New Jersey's black bear population, and the DEP Commissioner has approved the proposed CBBMP. Pursuant to the New Jersey Administrative Procedure Act, there was a 60-day period for the public to comment on the proposed CBBMP following its publication in the NJ Register on April 19, 2010.
Following the public comment period, both the Council and the Commissioner considered the comments that were submitted (pdf, 15kb). The Council approved a final version of the CBBMP at their July 13, 2010, meeting and advanced it to the Commissioner for approval. On July 21, 2010, Commissioner Martin approved the policy which will be adopted as the state's Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy.
Questions and Answers About Black Bear Management and the Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy
Q. What is the New Jersey Fish and Game Council and what is its authority?
A. The Legislature has empowered the Council with the responsibility to adopt a Fish and Game Code for the purpose of providing a system for the protection and conservation of fish and game and providing recreation. The Council bases its decisions upon scientific information provided by DFW professionals, ensures long-term stable populations, and maximizes and equitably distributes recreational opportunity to user groups by opening and closing seasons, setting season lengths, bag limits and manner of take. Adjusting season structures allows the Council to control the populations of wildlife such as deer, wild turkey, beavers and bears.
Q. What is the black bear management strategy contained in the CBBMP?
A. The CBBMP incorporates an integrated approach to bear management that includes research and monitoring, non-lethal and lethal control of problem bears, public education on how to coexist with bears, and law enforcement to reduce bear conflicts with humans. The CBBMP also seeks to manage the black bear population by reinstituting a regulated black bear hunt, similar to prior hunts conducted in 2003 and 2005.
Q. How many bears are there in New Jersey today and where do they live?
A. Black bears now occur statewide and have been sighted in every county. However, the largest proportion of New Jersey's black bear population occurs in the area north of I-80 and west of I-287. At the time the CBBMP was proposed, the population estimate for the area of the state north of I-80 and west of I-287 was 3,438. See Evaluation of Genetic Structure and Population Estimate in New Jersey Black Bears (pdf, 415kb) or the Evaluation Abstract (pdf, 26kb) for detailed information on the basis of that estimate.
Based on recent (2012) population analysis using tag returns received during the 2011 bear season, the population estimate for the area north of I-80 and west of I-287 was 2,800-3,000 bears prior to the 2011 black bear hunting season. This estimate does not take into account the 2011 harvest or the number of cubs born in January, 2012. A statewide black bear population estimate will require more extensive population research and monitoring of the population south of I-80.
Q. How healthy is New Jersey's black bear population?
A. DFW has conducted extensive research on New Jersey's black bear population and has collected a wealth of data. This includes information collected on more than 3,500 individual bears that have been handled by DFW staff. In 2010 DFW had over 40 female bears fitted with radio collars to monitor reproduction and survival. Research and monitoring data show the population is healthy, very productive and has low mortality. The average litter size of reproducing females is 2.7 cubs. The most common litter size is 3 (43%), followed by litters of 4 (23%) and 2 (22%).
Q. How many bear complaints does DFW receive and what kinds of problems are reported?
A. Black bear calls to DFW more than doubled from 2006 to 2009. In 2009, DFW received about 3,000 black bear calls, which included 833 sightings. The more than 2,100 other calls were bear incident calls ranging from bears raiding garbage and bird feeders to bears killing pets and livestock and breaking into houses. For current bear activity reports, see the Black Bear Activity Reports page.
Q. Why did conflicts with bears increased?
A. The increase was due primarily to a growing bear population expanding into areas with denser human populations as well as human populations expanding into good bear habitats.
Q. What measures has DFW taken to reduce human-bear conflicts?
A. The Division has been conducting an intensive public education campaign to teach residents, hikers, anglers and campers in "bear country" how to successfully coexist with these animals and has taken aggressive control actions, both lethal and non-lethal, toward problem bears. Education efforts include public presentations, distribution of educational material and public service announcements through the media. The effort has garnered several national awards and law enforcement neighborhood inspections have shown overwhelming compliance with DFW recommendations, including garbage management.
Q. How does DFW respond to complaints?
A. DFW's Wildlife Control Unit provides advice to callers with minor bear problems and technical assistance to homeowners, beekeepers and farmers with serious damage problems. DFW has also trained over 950 local police officers, state troopers, and state, county and municipal park rangers to assist DFW in the response to problem bears. DFW actively traps and aversively conditions bears responsible for recurring nuisance incidents and euthanizes bears that cause significant property damage or show unyielding or aggressive behavior. From 2006 to 2009, more than 100 bears have been euthanized.
Q. Does aversive conditioning work?
A. A recent university study of New Jersey bears that were aversively conditioned (pdf, 7.6mb) found all bears returned to urban settings within 17 days. The findings indicate aversive conditioning provides only short-term relief at the site where the bear was aversively conditioned. It does not eliminate nuisance behavior in black bears and is not recommended as a long-term solution for reducing nuisance black bear behavior in New Jersey.
Q. Why does the CBBMP recommend a black bear hunting season?
A. Controlled hunting is an effective way to reduce or stabilize bear populations. A New Jersey hunting season is recommended to reduce and stabilize the population at a density that minimizes human/bear conflicts, provides for a sustainable population within suitable bear habitat and minimizes emigration of bears to unsuitable habitat in suburban and urban areas.
The Council's recommendation to open the hunting season is based upon DFW data showing the population could support a regulated, recreational hunt and that hunting would help control bear related damage. This data includes the results of regulated black bear hunting seasons in New Jersey in 2003 and 2005, which demonstrated that bears could be harvested safely and showed decreases in bear related complaints and bear population growth subsequent to the 2003 and 2005 hunting seasons.
Q. What about other population control alternatives such as relocation or fertility control?
A. The Council and DFW have examined various tools suggested for bear population control. Relocating bears entails significant expense and it also requires suitable relocation areas. Relocating bears to other states is not an option since there are no states willing to accept bears. Relocating bears to southern New Jersey is not a viable option based upon associated costs and the desire not to move problem bears elsewhere.
A scientific review of fertility control concluded it is not a currently feasible population control alternative because approved or effective drugs for bears do not exist at the present time. The CBBMP endorses further research in this area.
Q. Does this mean DFW will rely solely on a hunting season to solve New Jersey's bear problem?
A. No. Population reduction through a regulated hunting season is only one component of an integrated and comprehensive management strategy. DFW will continue to carry out all the components of an integrated black bear management strategy, which include education, the continuation of ongoing research and population monitoring, appropriate lethal and non-lethal control measures, and investigation of all viable population control methods.
Q. How can I comment on the proposed CBBMP?
A. The proposed policy was published in the April 19, 2010, New Jersey Register. Following publication there was a 60-day public comment period as well as a public hearing on May 11 at 6 p.m. at the New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State St., Trenton, NJ 08625. The public comment period closed June 18, 2010.
Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy
Know the Bear Facts-Black Bears in NJ