New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife Back to State of NJ Homepage Back to Fish, Game and Wildlife Homepage Back to DEP Homepage 


October 13, 1999

For more information contact:
Bob Eriksen at 908-735-8793

As the result of an increasing black bear population in northern New Jersey, the Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife reported that the number of black bear complaint calls received between January and September 1999 more than doubled from the number received during the same period last year. Since the first of the year, 1,607 bear-related damage complaint calls have been logged, and similar increases have been observed over the past three years.

"Black bears are an extremely valuable natural resource," said Division Director Bob McDowell. "Unfortunately, many residents of 'bear country' who are experiencing property damage and other nuisance behaviors first-hand are regarding this growing population as a liability rather than an asset. Our goal is to educate New Jerseyans on successfully sharing their space with these creatures and maintaining their presence as a valuable part of the Garden State."

Complaints range in severity from damage to trash containers to pet and livestock kills. So far this year, there have been 157 reports of property damage, 26 home entries, 21 livestock kills, 13 beehives destroyed, 10 domestic pet rabbit kills and seven dog attacks. In addition, more than 30 vehicle strikes occurred.

"Black bears inhabit four northwestern counties and appear to be extending their range into at least two other counties," McDowell said. "Conflicts between bears and people are rising as a result of increasing bear numbers and encroachment on bear habitat by residential development."

Since January, the Division's Wildlife Control Unit has captured 46 problem bears. Black bears that cause property damage or other problems are captured, conspicuously tagged and removed from the complaint site. As they are released, the bears receive intense aversive conditioning to modify their behavior, including pepper spray, rubber bullets and pyrotechnics designed to frighten the animals.

According to Division Black Bear Policy, bears that repeat negative behaviors may be euthanized. The Division has euthanized six bears since 1995 under this policy. Four of the six were euthanized this year. One male bear weighing approximately 300 pounds was destroyed after repeated livestock killing incidents. Three female bears were destroyed after each was involved in several home entries in spite of capture, relocation and conditioning. Black bears caused an estimated $108,000 in property damage in 1998 and an estimated $125,000 in damage has been reported so far this year.

The number of bears living in northwestern New Jersey has risen from less than 50 animals in 1980 to more than 700 today. It is expected that the bear population will exceed 1,000 animals over the next several years in this part of the state, which is already inhabited by more than 700,000 people.

"Unfortunately, for residents and visitors to North Jersey, interactions are inevitable and conflicts will continue to become more frequent as the number of bears grows," McDowell said. "This is a serious problem associated with an expanding bear population and the Division's Wildlife Control Unit is dealing with complaints as best it can, but our resources are limited. New Jerseyans need to consider a long-term solution that is acceptable to everyone involved."

The Division offers the following advice for those who may encounter a black bear:

  1. Remain calm. Most bears are easily frightened into leaving.
  2. Never approach the animal and observe only from a distance. Make your presence known through clapping, talking, singing or making other sounds.
  3. Make sure the bear has an escape route.
  4. The bear may utter a series of huffs, snap (pop) its jaws and swat the ground. These are all warning signs that you are too close. Slowly back away.
  5. If a bear stands on its hind legs, it is merely trying to get a better view rather than acting in a threatening way.
  6. Black bears will sometimes "bluff charge" when cornered, threatened or attempting to obtain food. Stand your ground and slowly back away.
  7. If you encounter a bear at close range, remain standing upright, avoid direct eye contact, back up slowly and speak in a calm, assertive voice.
  8. If the bear will not leave, move to your car or house, if available. If not, the same rules as in number 7 above apply.
  9. Never attempt to feed a bear. Bears learn very quickly. Black bears that associate food with people may become aggressive and dangerous. This may lead to personal injury, property damage and the need to euthanize problem animals.
  10. Report all bear damage and repeated nuisance incidents to the New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife at 908-735-8793.
For more information on black bears, send a self-addressed, stamped, business-sized envelope to: NJ Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife, P.O. Box 400, Trenton, NJ 08625-0400, Attention: Bear Country.