Be sure to properly secure your trash and take precautions to reduce risk of encounters.
We think it important to share a recent NJ DEP warning about taking steps to reduce the potential for encounters with black bears now beginning to emerge from their winter dens.
Black bears (Ursus americanus) are the largest land mammal in New Jersey with an increasing population that has been expanding its range both southward and eastward from the forested areas of northwestern New Jersey (including Morris, Sussex, Warren and northern Passaic counties, and portions of Hunterdon, Somerset, and Bergen counties). They have been sighted in all of New Jersey’s 21 counties. There were numerous bear sightings in Ewing in 2022.
It is important to remember that bears are an integral part of the state’s natural heritage and are a vital component of healthy ecosystems. They are omnivorous, eating plants, berries, insects, prey animals such as white tail deer fawns, carrion, and human garbage or food leftovers.
Spring is a time when bears are very active. They have emerged from their dens and are actively foraging for food. People who live or visit areas of the state where bears are out should be alert to their presence and take steps to avoid interactions with them.
What about bear attacks?
Black bear attacks are extremely rare. In fact, by nature, bears are wary of people. If a black bear does attack, fight back. According to DEP Fish & Wildlife Assistant Commissioner David Golden: “People can reduce the likelihood of attracting bears if they diligently bear-proof their property by removing or properly securing any potential food sources. It is also critically important for people to never feed black bears. Feeding bears is dangerous, illegal and may result in bears becoming aggressive.”
The DEP offers the following tips for property owners and outdoor enthusiasts to minimize conflicts with bears:
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, dairy 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.
Following these suggestions is essential to reducing bear encounters because they will learn to associate food with people and their homes and begin to forage in neighborhoods for food. Nuisance bears can cause property damage, approach humans for food and become dangerous. Intentionally feeding bears is illegal in New Jersey and carries a fine of up to $1,000.
If you encounter a black bear in your neighborhood or outdoors while hiking, birding, fishing, or camping, follow these safety tips:
Remain calm. Bears can run up to 35 mph so never run from them, 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.
Report black bear damage or aggressive bears to the Ewing Police department at 609-882-1313 or call Fish & Wildlife at 1-(877) WARN DEP (1-877-927-6337).