Black Bears in New Jersey

For the first time in over 150 years, there was a fatal bear attack in New Jersey. Five friends were hiking in the Apshawa Preserve when they encountered a black bear. According to the four survivors, the bear was following them and acting in an aggressive manner. Unfortunately, one of the group did not survive.

New Jersey black bear

New Jersey black bear (photo credit: NJ DEP Fish & Wildlife)

Since the incident, there has been much discussion about bear safety and what to do if you encounter a bear. How to manage the bear population is a regular point of debate in my great state. That, however, is not the point of this post. I felt I should share some thoughts about bear safety.

The American black bear is native to New Jersey. Within the most densely populated state in the nation, black bears are thriving and there are now confirmed bear sightings in all 21 of New Jersey’s counties. It is believed the current bear population is between 2,800 and 3,000 in New Jersey.

My husband and I have been enjoying New Jersey’s great outdoors for decades. In all that time we have probably encountered bears less than five times. We are, however, always prepared.

Here are some important points to keep in mind when out enjoying New Jersey’s great outdoors:

  • First and foremost, never approach or attempt to feed a bear
  • As hard as it may be, stay calm and DO NOT TURN AND RUN!
  • Make the bear aware of you by making loud noises, clapping your hands, or other noise – I keep a whistle with me. If you are camping, bang pots and pans or have an air horn handy.
  • Make sure you do not “corner” a bear – it needs to have an escape route
  • Do not make eye contact – the bear may consider it as a challenge or aggressive
  • Back away slowly and DO NOT TURN AND RUN!
  • Make yourself look as large as possible by waving your arms. If you are with someone else, stand next to each other and raise your arms.
  • Consider carrying Mace or bear spray
  • When going hiking, consider going with someone else
  • They are usually most active around sunrise and sunset, so consider avoiding hiking during these times
  • If you do experience aggressive bear behavior, make sure you report it to NJ DEP Division of Fish & Wildlife at 1-877-927-6337
  • NEVER TURN AND RUN!

Do you see a theme here? As hard as it may be, NEVER turn and run from a bear. You are inviting trouble.

Also consider keeping a hiking staff with you. I use my wading staff for fishing when I am out hiking. If needed, it could be a weapon.

If you live in an area with bears (like I do), the most important step you can take is keeping your garbage well secured by using bear-proof garbage containers or keeping it in your garage.

As I mentioned initially – bear attacks are very rare. Bears are opportunistic feeders and not generally meat eaters. For the most part their diets consist of plants, berries, nuts, bird’s eggs, and unfortunately, garbage. They have been known to eat animal carcasses. They do not look for encounters with people and will usually do their best to avoid you.

Whether or not the five hikers in the Apshawa Preserve used any of the suggestions on the list I do not know. It may have not helped at all if it turns out this animal was sick or felt threatened. Hopefully these suggestions will help you stay safe while enjoying New Jersey’s great outdoors.

For more bear safety information, Fish and Wildlife’s website offers a lot of great information. You can read more by clicking here.

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