New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife Back to State of NJ Homepage Back to Fish, Game and Wildlife Homepage Back to DEP Homepage 


May 21, 1999

For more information contact:
Bob Eriksen at 908-735-8793

Since January, the Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife has received nearly 100 telephone calls concerning damage and nuisance problems caused by black bears in northwestern New Jersey. In 1998, more than 850 such calls were handled with 89 rabbits and chickens, eight goats and sheep and two pigs killed by bears in the Garden State.

"This is a serious problem associated with our expanding black bear population and the Division's Wildlife Control Unit is dealing with bear complaints as best it can, but our resources are limited," said Division Director Bob McDowell. "Black bears are an important wildlife resource with a vital role in the ecology of northwestern New Jersey. However, we must realize that living in such a densely population state as our own, an increasing population of black bears will inevitably result in more frequent conflicts."

Typically in the early spring, many of the calls are from homeowners who have experienced damage to trash containers and birdfeeders. Bears emerging from winter dens often seek out these two sources of food. While damage to containers and birdfeeders is annoying to some, this type of damage is usually not costly and does not pose any threat to the property owner. However, other incidents are far more serious in nature.

Occasionally, black bears prey upon livestock in the early spring when food is not abundant. During the last week of March, five separate incidents of livestock kills by bears were reported to the Division's Wildlife Control Unit. One llama, four goats, one newborn calf, 10 chickens and one domestic turkey were taken by at least four different bears in Sussex, Warren and Morris counties. Control unit staff set bear traps at four locations and captured three black bears suspected of killing livestock.

The Division's Black Bear Policy outlines response procedures for use in solving damage problems caused by bears. In the case of livestock kills, control unit staff may destroy a bear if it is observed killing or feeding on livestock.

When a bear is captured at the site of a livestock kill, there is a very strong probability that the animal involved in the incident has been captured. There is however, a chance that a bear having nothing to do with the situation was caught. Therefore, it is the Division's current policy to remove the bear from the site, tag it conspicuously and place a radio-collar on it. Upon release some distance from the trap site, aversive conditioning techniques including pepper spray, rubber bullets and pyrotechnics designed to frighten the animal are applied to modify behavior. If the animal kills livestock again after being captured and conditioned, it is euthanized due to the extremely difficult, if not impossible, nature of catching the bear multiple times.

Two of the bears apprehended in late March were moved approximately 25 miles from the capture site and conditioned. The third animal, which was involved in the goat kills, had been captured and conditioned in December. It had killed a goat at its previous capture site and apparently had not learned from its earlier experience. As a result, the bear was euthanized.

The Division offers the following advice for those who may encounter a black bear:

  1. Remain calm. Most bears are easily frightened into leaving.
  2. Never approach the animal and observe only from a distance. Make your presence known through clapping, talking, singing or making other sounds.
  3. Make sure the bear has an escape route.
  4. The bear may utter a series of huffs, snap (pop) its jaws and swat the ground. These are all warning signs that you are too close. Slowly back away.
  5. If a bear stands on its hind legs, it is merely trying to get a better view rather than acting in a threatening way.
  6. Black bears will sometimes "bluff charge" when cornered, threatened or attempting to obtain food. Stand your ground and slowly back away.
  7. If you encounter a bear at close range, remain standing upright, avoid direct eye contact, back up slowly and speak in a calm, assertive voice.
  8. If the bear will not leave, move to your car or house, if available. If not, the same rules as in number 7 apply.
  9. Never attempt to feed a bear. Bears learn very quickly. Black bears that associate food with people may become aggressive and dangerous. This may lead to personal injury, property damage and the need to euthanize problem animals.
  10. Report all bear damage and repeated nuisance incidents to the New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife at 908-735-8793.
For more information on black bears, send a self-addressed, stamped, business-sized envelope to: NJ Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife, P.O. Box 400, Trenton, NJ 08625-0400, Attention: Bear Country.