MORRIS COUNTY, NJ- With many Morris County residents now enjoying the fall hiking season, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is reminding those residents of ways to reduce black bear encounters, and offering tips should they come within close range of black bears in the county’s and region’s many natural areas.
The DEP’s advice follows a recent bear-human interaction at Ramapo Mountain State Forest in Bergen County, when a pair of hikers, including a 7-year-old boy, were closely followed by a potentially aggressive black bear at the forest.
A third park visitor also came within close proximity of the same bear, which stopped about 15 feet from the man and his dog and paced for several minutes before backing away, according to the visitor.
Black bears are found throughout Morris County and are often observed in some county parks. Most encounters will result with the bear running away but if it doesn’t leave, use common sense and never approach the bear. Do not attempt to take selfies with your phone camera.
If you see a bear, in particular one that does not show much fear, you are advised to immediately contact the Department of Environmental Protection’s hotline at 877-927-6337, or (877) WARN-DEP. If you encounter such a bear in a Morris County Park immediately contact the Park Police at 973-326-7654.
In most cases, encounters between people and black bears end without incident. However, black bears are wild animals and the Division of Fish and Wildlife reminds the public that it is very important for people who live in or visit New Jersey’s bear country – which includes Morris County -- to be alert to their presence, especially when hiking.
The Division of Fish and Wildlife offers the following tips when hiking in bear country:
- Never feed or approach a bear.
- Make your presence on the trail known by speaking loudly, singing, clapping your hands, or making other noises.
- Remain calm if you encounter a bear. DO NOT RUN FROM IT. Do not make direct eye contact with the bear, as this may be perceived as a challenge. SLOWLY BACK AWAY.
- Make sure the bear has an escape route.
- If the bear continues to follow you or is otherwise undeterred, make loud noises by yelling, blow a whistle, bang pots and pans, or use an air horn, if available. 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.
- 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. It is usually not a threatening behavior.
- The bear may utter a series of huffs, make popping jaw sounds by snapping its jaws and swat the ground. These are warning signs that you are too close. Slowly back away, avoid direct eye contact and do not run.
- Black bears will sometimes “bluff charge” when cornered, threatened or attempting to steal food. Stand your ground, avoid direct eye contact, then slowly back away and do not run.
Black bear attacks are extremely rare. However, if one does attack, fight back. Do not “play dead.”
In addition, 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.
The Division of Fish and Wildlife offers these other important rules to help minimize conflicts with black bears:
- If a bear enters your home, provide it with an escape route by propping all doors open.
- Invest in certified bear-resistant garbage containers, which offer the best protection. If not using bear-proof garbage containers, store all garbage in containers with tight fitting lids in a secure area where bears are unlikely to see or smell them, such as a basement or the inside wall of a garage.
- Business owners should contact their sanitation company to acquire a bear resistant dumpster if they are having issues with black bears.
- Use electric fencing to protect livestock and beehives. It is the most effective and efficient way to prevent bear damage. A properly installed and baited electric fence not only deters bears, but teaches them to keep away.
- Put garbage out on collection day, not the evening before.
- Wash garbage and recycling containers with a disinfectant at least once a week to reduce odors.
- Draping an ammonia- or bleach-soaked cloth over containers will help to eliminate odors.
- Do not place meat or sweet food scraps in compost piles.
- Feed birds only from December 1 to April 1, when bears are least active.
- Feed outdoor pets during daylight hours only. Immediately remove all food scraps and bowls after feeding.
- Clean outdoor grills thoroughly after each use. Grease and food residue can attract bears.
- Do not leave food unattended while camping or picnicking.
For more information on black bear behavior, biology and tips, visit: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/bearfacts.htm