The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife urges north Jersey residents to avoid feeding black bears and to “bear proof” their surroundings during the summer months.
“Though individuals may mean well by providing hand-outs, establishing artificial feeding sources and the association of humans with food inevitably can create problems for both the bears and the people involved,” said division Director Bob McDowell. “Bears have the potential to become problem animals when people feed them, either intentionally or not. A bear that becomes accustomed to finding food in someone’s yard will return to that yard, and the yards of neighbors until it gradually loses its natural instinct to avoid people. It is critical that residents take every precaution to ‘bear proof’ their surroundings.”
A stable food source is very attractive to black bears and other forms of wildlife who, once a set feeding pattern has been established, will keep coming back to a site regularly in search of food. That can mean damage or potential harm to homeowners and their property as well as that of other families in the community. Since black bears have the distinction of eating almost anything, scavenging from garbage cans, bird feeders and campsites can become a common occurrence once an area has been established as a “reliable” food source.
According to McDowell, the number of complaints received by the division regarding black bears usually increases during the June breeding season when the bears’ activity rates are higher. Under such circumstances, proper sanitation techniques have proven to be the most effective method of preventing black bear damage.
Garbage should be stored in airtight containers and placed in a secure area. Containers should not be stored in a wooden shed or against garage or basement doors and should be washed with a disinfectant at least once a week to remove odors.
The outside feeding of dogs and cats should be done during daylight hours and all uneaten food and scraps, as well as food bowls, should be removed immediately after feeding.
Those who feed wild birds are urged to modify their feeding practices in accordance with the following guidelines. As bird seed and suet are highly attractive to black bears, feeders should be suspended from a free hanging wire during daylight hours only, so that the bottom of the feeder is at least eight feet off the ground.
Should you see a black bear, do not approach it under any circumstances. Sightings may be reported to the division’s Wildlife Research Section at 908-735-7040. Individuals needing assistance in controlling bear damage may contact the division’s Wildlife Control Unit at 908-735-8793.
New Jersey has a growing black bear population that is mostly concentrated in Sussex, Warren, western Morris and northern Passaic counties.
“Residents in these areas need to realize that bears are a natural part of the forest environment,” McDowell said. “In a state as densely populated as our own, this means that they are never far from residential areas and people. However, they usually avoid or only pass through such populated areas in search of their natural woodland food sources. Therefore, it is essential that they not have their regular travel and behavior patterns altered by intentional or unintentional feeding.”
Black bears are currently protected in New Jersey and it is illegal to harm them in any way.