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August 2, 2000

For more information contact:
Jim Sciascia at 609-984-6295

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) Division of Fish and Wildlife was recently awarded second place for its black bear education program at the 2000 Association for Conservation Information's (ACI) national conference held July 16-21 in Reno, Nevada. ACI is an international network of professional natural resource conservation communicators from the U.S. and Canada, including representatives from state and federal agencies as well as private organizations. Founded in 1938, it is the oldest and largest association of its kind in the country.

The ACI annual conference provides strong agendas that emphasize message improvement, an exchange of ideas and communication techniques, and the presentation of current environmental and wildlife conservation communication issues. The annual awards program is part of the conference each year and is conducted among members for the purpose of advancing craftsmanship through competition. Also honored in the education category was Texas Parks and Wildlife, which received first place for its Live Webcasts: Electronic Field Trips entry. Idaho ranked third for Wild About Salmon - An Educator's Guide.

"It is impressive that New Jersey can successfully compete on the same level as much larger and better-funded state programs, especially from the West and Mid-West," said Division Director Bob McDowell. "The Division has been criticized by some for not adequately using education as a tool in managing the state's growing conflicts between bears and humans. The recognition of the Division's bear education efforts by an international organization such as ACI illustrates our commitment to education as a valuable tool to help humans coexist with bears."

By the early 1900s New Jersey's bear population was nearly extinct due to vast clearing of its forested habitat for fuel, lumber and agriculture. The population remained small due to lack of habitat, but began to grow in the 80s as the forests that reclaimed abandoned agricultural areas began to mature. Data from research performed by the Division over the last 20 years provides a population estimate of over 1,000 bears concentrated in the northwestern part of the state and rapidly expanding east and south. In response to a growing bear population and increasing conflict with humans, the Division began a formal educational campaign in 1997 to inform residents about the state's growing black bear population and how to minimize negative bear-human interactions.

Working cooperatively with the DEP's Division of Parks and Forestry, the Division developed educational materials for homeowners and campers to provide information about bears and ways to reduce negative encounters with these animals. Among the materials printed and distributed were 50,000 full-color "You are in Bear Country" brochures designed specifically for campers and 50,000 "Living in Bear Country" brochures for homeowners.

Plastic signs were also developed and posted on state park picnic tables to urge visitors to secure food and dispose of trash properly. Other signs warning against approaching or feeding bears were posted throughout campgrounds. The same educational brochures and signs were also distributed to private campgrounds and local boy scout troops, and special regulations were developed to prevent bear feeding and leaving food exposed to bears in state parks.

In addition to the brochures and 40,000 educational signs, the Division produced and distributed 20,000 bumper stickers, 10,000 book covers and 150,000 bookmarks to campers, schools, municipalities, libraries, parks and environmental education centers in northern New Jersey. This literature contained general information about bears while stressing the importance of never feeding these animals. In 1999, six public service announcements providing information on preventing conflicts with bears were recorded on compact disks and distributed to approximately 150 radio stations in the tri-state area.

In 1997, the Division and New Jersey Network (NJN) received an Emmy Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for the documentary Bear Country, New Jersey. The film explains the nature and history of black bear in the Garden State and follows Division biologists through their yearly cycle of research. More than 200 copies of the film have been distributed to schools, libraries and environmental education centers in addition to the hundreds of copies sold by NJN. It has been broadcast numerous times on NJN and PBS affiliates around the nation and internationally.

The Division has also conducted more than 70 public presentations on living with black bears for various schools, municipalities, service organizations, parks, camps and clubs. It is estimated that nearly 7,000 individuals were exposed to this form of outreach. Since the educational campaign, the Division has also disseminated a continuous stream of news releases and other materials alerting the public to issues regarding New Jersey's growing black bear population. In each release, the Division's primary message has been to discourage feeding and urge residents to properly "bear-proof" their surroundings. Additionally, the Division has addressed more than 100 media-related inquiries and interviews regarding black bears, as well as participated in numerous township meetings. Finally, the agency uses each telephone call from a citizen reporting a bear sighting or complaint as an opportunity to educate residents and visitors to bear country about how to avoid negative encounters with bears.

Bear education programs can be scheduled or bear education literature obtained by calling Division biologist, Al Ivany, at the Pequest Natural Resource Education Center at (908) 637-4125.