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
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
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
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
Murie describes as "the most pitiful sound I have heard
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
- DO NOT FEED THE BEAR!
- 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
- 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.
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.
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.
the rt23.com Directory for Science and Nature Events
Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife
Wildlife Refuge - non-profit, charitable rehabilitation
facility dedicated to the care and release of orphaned and injured
- Living in Bear Country, pamphlet, New
Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife.
Tracks - Peterson Field Guide Series, Olaus J. Murie,
- Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, Vol 3, 1986