The American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) is a large-bodied, muscular animal that is quite agile.
Black bears can run up to 35 miles per hour. New Jersey's adult male black bears, called boars, weigh
on average 400 pounds. Their weight can range from 150 pounds to over 600 pounds. Adult females,
called sows, weigh on average 175 pounds. Their weight can range from 150 pounds to over 400
Adult black bears are about 3 feet high when on all four paws and can range from 5
feet to 7 feet tall when standing. Black bears can be many different colors, ranging from brown to
black. Most black bears in New Jersey are black, but there has been one documented black bear in the
state that is cinnamon brown in color. About fifteen percent (15%) of New Jersey's bears also have a
white chest blaze. The muzzles of black bears are typically brown.
Black bears have a
remarkable sense of smell. They have been documented detecting scents at more than two miles away from
a food source. The area of the nasal mucous membrane in a bear's head is 100 times larger than that in
a human. Their excellent sense of smell is what sometimes leads them on a search for food in
residential neighborhoods and campgrounds.
Black bears also have good hearing and can see
well, although they are near-sighted. Their ability to see color helps them when foraging for foods
such as berries and fruits. They can also see well at night, due to a reflective layer in the back of
their eyeball which mirrors the moonlight.
Black bears are strong swimmers. They are also
excellent climbers who have five toes on each paw with claws that are about two inches long and curved
for climbing trees. Both adults and cubs will climb trees for food and to escape disturbances. Black
bears can live for 25 years in the wild. Signs of a black bear in the area include bear scat, paw
prints and marked trees
Habitat and Distribution
Black bears live in mixed hardwood forests, dense swamps and forested wetlands. They prefer areas with
dense cover. In New Jersey, excellent bear habitat is found primarily within Sussex, Passaic, Warren
and Morris counties. However, as the bear population increases, black bears are expanding their range
both east and south. Black bear sightings have now been confirmed statewide. Bears are highly
adaptable and can live among human development.
Black bears establish a home range, which
is the area of habitat the animal uses throughout the year. New Jersey's sows typically have a home
range of less than 2 square miles. The home range of boars is larger and may overlap those of multiple
sows. In certain areas within the northwestern portion of the state, there are as many as three bears
per square mile.
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.
Fish and Wildlife biologists have calculated a 2020 population estimate of 3,158 bears for the region north of Interstate 78 and west of Interstate 287, which
is an increase from the 2019 estimated population for this same region of 2,208. Fish and Wildlife biologists have not extrapolated the estimates throughout
bear occupied range in New Jersey.