"Whether you live in or visit areas frequented by bears, it is very important to prevent them from associating people with possible food sources, such as trash that is not properly secured at home or poorly stored food at campsites,” said NJDEP Fish & Wildlife Assistant Commissioner Dave Golden. “Bears will naturally take advantage of easy meals and become habituated to an area, causing them to seek handouts or even become aggressive and become a problem for you and others.”
Most of New Jersey's black bears live in the northwestern portion of the state, particularly Morris, Sussex, Warren and northern Passaic counties, as well as portions of Hunterdon, Somerset, and Bergen counties. However, black bears have been reported in all 21 counties.
Throughout the fall, black bears need to consume large amounts of food to bolster their fat reserves for the denning season. They are omnivorous, opportunistic feeders and will consume whatever food is available.
A black bear’s natural diet is comprised of plants, berries, fruit, nuts, insects, bird eggs, small mammals, and carrion. Their main source of unnatural food is garbage. Black bears have an extremely keen sense of smell and can detect the odors of potential food sources up to two miles away. Property owners, hikers and campers can reduce the likelihood of attracting bears by bear-proofing residences and camps by removing or properly securing any potential food sources. Intentionally feeding bears is illegal in New Jersey and carries a fine of up to $1,000.
Property owners can minimize potential conflicts by following these tips:
- 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 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.
For a bear attractant removal checklist, click here.
Tips to prevent harmful bear encounters while camping include:
- Keep a clean campsite. Food and all items that come in contact with food carry odors that appeal to a bear’s acute sense of smell.
- Do not eat or cook in or near your tent. Never store food items or scented toiletries, such as chewing gum, soap, deodorant or toothpaste in tents, sleeping bags or backpacks.
- Avoid making food garbage by cooking only as much as you will eat at a meal.
- Clean grills and all utensils thoroughly. Never put food or food residue into campfires or fire pits.
- Place garbage in airtight containers or bear-resistant dumpsters. Do not burn garbage or bury it. Bears will dig it up.
- Keep your dog on a leash and remove leftovers after your dog has finished eating.
To stay safe while hiking and fishing:
- Let friends or family members know where you plan to be and when you plan to return.
- Hike during daylight hours and stay on the trail. Look for bear signs such as tracks, scat and claw marks.
- Alert bears to your presence with normal trail noise, which should prompt them to leave before you ever see them.
- Use caution in areas where bears are likely to venture, such as berry patches.
- Avoid hiking with pets. If you choose to bring your dog, make sure it is always leashed.
- Stay in a group and keep children close when hiking with others.
- Never leave fish entrails on shorelines of lakes, ponds or streams. Sink entrails in deep water.
If you encounter a black bear, 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 the DEP hotline at 877-WARNDEP (877-927-6337).
The DEP continues to advance non-lethal management methods for black bears and is developing an integrated program to address waste management and ways to reduce it as a potential food source for bears. In addition to those efforts, the DEP plans to launch a pilot program to provide a limited number of residents with free certified bear-resistant trash containers.
Ten northwestern communities with high levels of black bear incidents were invited to a roundtable discussion on Sept. 21 to gauge interest and exchange ideas on the design of this important program, which aims to reduce bear-human interactions.
To complement these programs, the DEP has also implemented a highly successful multimedia public outreach campaign, Know the Bear Facts, educating the public about bear safety and the importance of reducing bear attractants.
“NJDEP Fish & Wildlife’s ongoing Know the Bear Facts outreach campaign has already garnered nearly 20 million impressions on various platforms such as radio, social media and digital television,” said NJDEP Fish & Wildlife Black Bear Outreach Coordinator Michelle Smith. “We also offer communities resources for coexisting with black bears, including free bear safety seminars for schools and civic groups.”
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