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Black Bear Outline
The black bear population is growing steadily in North Jersey, so perhaps it is time to meet our wild neighbors!
Bears are found throughout the world on all continents except for Africa, Antarctica and Australia. Bears are classified as the family Ursidae and are the largest members of the Carnivora order. They are related to pandas, raccoons and dogs. Bears lack the shearing teeth found in most carnivores, but have large molars that may be an adaptation to a plant diet. Other differences with members of the Carnivora Order include heavy bodies, short, rounded ears and five toes on the each foot. The North American black bear (Euarctos americanus), in spite of its name, can vary in color from almost pure white to a pure or bluish black. In the western United States and Canada, black bears vary from a blonde to a reddish brown or cinnamon color.

Black Bear FootprintsBlack bear foot prints are approximately the size of a adult hand. The feet are plantigrade, similar to humans whereas the heel and sole both touch the ground. The "big toe" is the outer one unlike human "big toes" on the inside. A shallow bear print may not show the smallest toe, creating the effect of being four toed.

Black bears can weigh more than six hundred pounds (272 kg), but average around three hundred and fifty pounds.
The females are slightly smaller, averaging around two hundred pounds (90 kg). A black bear's diet consists of mostly plants and fruit. They are opportunistic and will eat small animals, insects and carrion. Bears give birth every two years with one to four cubs born in winter dens. Black bears normally remain with their mothers until they reach 18 months of age and weigh approximately 60-100 lbs. Black bear dens are very difficult to find, sometimes being in the hollow of an upturned tree root or other natural cavity. Other then a female with cubs or during the breeding season in June, bears are solitary creatures.

Bears are usually quiet, but they do vocalize with a variety of growls, coughs and sniffs in addition to whining sounds. When the animal is slightly annoyed, it may growl. The bear may also "huff" or "cough" or make a popping, snapping sound with its jaws while pawing the ground. This may be the time for you to back away slowly, as you are WAY TOO CLOSE! When injured or in trouble, a bear makes a heart rending, almost human moaning that Olaus Murie describes as "the most pitiful sound I have heard in nature".

In New Jersey, black bears are making a remarkable recovery from their low numbers in the nineteenth century. Early settlers of New Jersey changed the landscape resulting in the black bear being pushed back into the more remote areas of the state. Now, the human population has expanded into these last refuges of the black bears. Black bears are now at a critical point where human tolerance and quality of habitat will define their future.

The New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife has made some recommendations for the safe coexistence of people and bears:

Bear Encounter Tips

  • Remain calm, bears are easily frightened into leaving.
  • Keep at least fifteen feet from the animal.
  • Make sure the bear has an escape route, do not corner the bear!
  • Yell, bang pots and pans, or use an air horn to scare the bear away.
  • If the bear will not leave, move to your house, car or other building, if available.
  • Use common sense in a bear encounter - DO NOT APPROACH THE ANIMAL!
  • If the bear utters a series of huffs, snaps (pops) its jaws and swats the ground, these are warning signs that you are too close. Slowly back away from the animal.
  • Store residential garbage in airtight containers in a secure area.
  • Do not store garbage against the doors of a garage, basement or in a wooden shed.
  • Outside feeding of cats and dogs should be done during daylight hours and the food bowl should be removed immediately afterward.
  • Bird feeders should be suspended so that the bottom is at least eight feet from the ground. Feeders should be hung in daylight hours only.
Black Bear crosses through home garden in Upper Greenwood Lake, New Jersey
Just passing through! Black Bear crosses Upper Greenwood Lake home graden in West Milford, New Jersey (Photo by Sandra Reeve)

If Black Bears associate food with people, their behavior may change and may become aggressive and dangerous.
Bear trap in West Milford, New Jersey
Bear trap set by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. Once bears associate people with food, they become more aggressive. The NJDFW controls bears by either relocation or, as a last resort, destroying the animal.
Bears are generally non-aggressive toward people and flee to avoid confrontation. Black bears rarely attack or defend themselves against people. But, bears are very intelligent and learn quickly. Don't leave garbage or food in easily accessible areas where bears can find it. It is both illegal and foolish to feed bears. Misguided people feel that feeding the bears is somehow helpful. Once bears learn that food is available in homes and become unafraid of humans, they invade homes and cause damage to property. This eventually ends by the animal being destroyed by the police or NJ Fish and Wildlife. In other words, being nice to your bear neighbors does not mean inviting them over for dinner!

Please note that the mere presence of a black bear does not represent a problem. Black bears are beautiful creatures and remind us of our Earth's wonderful menagerie of life. Using a bit of common sense and taking some simple precautions, we can successfully share our small part of the world with these magnificent and powerful animals.

If you are experiencing nuisance or damage problems related to bears, please contact the New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife Control Unit at (908) 735-8793.

Sightings should be reported to the New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife Research Unit at (908) 735-7040.

Related Links

Search the rt23.com Directory for Science and Nature Events
New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife

Woodlands Wildlife Refuge -
non-profit, charitable rehabilitation facility dedicated to the care and release of orphaned and injured wild animals.


- Living in Bear Country, pamphlet, New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife.
- Animal Tracks - Peterson Field Guide Series, Olaus J. Murie, 1954
- Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, Vol 3, 1986

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