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State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
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March 30, 2006

Contact: Darlene Yuhas (609) 984-1795
Elaine Makatura (609) 292-2994


(06/20) TRENTON - As New Jersey's black bears emerge from hibernation and begin roving for food, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson today urged residents to take simple precautions now to discourage the animals from becoming a nuisance near homes.

"Nothing brings black bears into backyards faster than an opportunity to raid a garbage can or a bird feeder. But feeding these animals - either intentionally or unintentionally by carelessly leaving out food or garbage - can have serious consequences for residents, their neighbors and the bears," Commissioner Jackson said. "Not only is feeding black bears dangerous, it is illegal. Violators face a penalty of up to $1,000 for each offense."

Bears that learn to associate food with people often become a nuisance and sometimes even aggressive, and then must be euthanized to protect the public.

Incidents involving garbage, bird feeders and nuisance behavior accounted for an overwhelming majority of the bear complaints reported to Wildlife Control professionals in the DEP's Division of Fish and Wildlife during the past seven years.

During 2005, Fish and Wildlife logged 1,104 bear-related complaints. Of that total, 832 or 75 percent were nuisance, garbage and bird feeder incidents.

Along with properly storing garbage, residents, particularly those in areas with large numbers of bears, should avoid putting out bird feeders. Instead, attract birds to backyards with birdbaths, nesting materials and birdhouses.

Though most of New Jersey's black bears live in the northwestern portion of the state, their range is expanding south and east, and sightings have been reported in all 21 counties. Sightings in residential areas are not considered a problem, if the bears are exhibiting normal behavior and are not creating a nuisance or threatening public safety.

Come summer, during breeding season, male black bears will roam long distances in search of mates.

Residents who suddenly encounter a bear should remain calm. Do not feed the bear, and do not run. Make sure the bear has an escape route. Avoid direct eye contact, back up slowly and speak with a low, assertive voice.

Remember, black bear attacks are extremely rare; should an attack occur, however, residents are advised to fight back. Do not play dead. Black bears are easily intimidated, and fighting back might discourage the animal's aggressive behavior and cause it to break off the attack.

To minimize the potential for conflicts with black bears near homes, residents are advised to take the following precautions:

  • Never feed a black bear.
  • Use 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.
  • Put out garbage on collection day, not the night before.
  • Wash garbage containers with a disinfectant solution at least once a week to remove odors. Draping rags soaked in bleach over your garbage bags also helps to eliminate odors.
  • Avoid feeding birds, especially if you live in an area frequented by bears. If you choose to feed birds, do so during daylight hours only, between December 1 and April 1, when bears are least active. Suspend the bird feeder from a free-hanging wire, making sure it's at least 10 feet off the ground. Bring the feeder indoors at night. Clean up spilled seeds and shells daily.
  • Do not place meat or any sweet foods in compost piles.
  • Clean up after pets. If you feed them outside, remember to pick up any leftover food and remove bowls after they have finished.
  • Clean outdoor grills thoroughly after each use. Grease and food residue can attract bears.
  • Report bear damage, nuisance behavior or aggressive bears to the local police department or to the DEP's Division of Fish and Wildlife at (908) 735-8793. During evenings and weekends, call (877) 927-6337.

To learn more about New Jersey's black bears, visit the DEP's Web site at




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Last Updated: March 30, 2006