NJ Fish & Wildlife warn about bears

NJ Fish & Wildlife warn about bears

The topic of New Jersey and bears has a bit of a contentious place in my heart. I remember seeing the lack of a bear hunt in the past, sighting a bear in New Jersey while hunting in the 90’s as a youth, which was unheard of. I also remember the bear hunt starting and how the population was culled to more manageable levels when they got out of control. Governor Phil Murphy put a stop completely to the bear hunt and that’s not helping things.

In New Jersey there have been people eaten by bears, mauled by bears, and attacked. People have their property destroyed by bears and also have their pets eaten as well. The NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Fish and Wildlife division recently sent out an e-blast to warn people to stay aware of bears.


The fall season means New Jersey’s black bears are on the move foraging for food in preparation for the winter denning season. New Jersey Fish and Wildlife is reminding the public to adhere to guidelines for removing potential food sources and avoiding interactions with black bears.

It is critically important for people to never feed black bears. Bears attracted to neighborhoods may learn to associate people with food. These animals may then become nuisance bears that cause property damage, seek handouts from people or become dangerous. Intentionally feeding bears is illegal in New Jersey and carries a fine of up to $1,000.

The DEP offers the following tips for property owners to minimize conflicts with bears:

  • Secure trash and eliminate obvious sources of food such as pet food bowls, easy-to-reach bird feeders, or food residue left on barbecue grills.
  • Use certified 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.
  • Wash garbage containers frequently with a disinfectant solution to remove odors. Put out garbage on collection day, not the night before.
  • Avoid feeding birds when bears are active. If you choose to feed birds, do so during daylight hours only and bring feeders indoors at night. Suspend birdfeeders from a free-hanging wire, making sure they are at least 10 feet off the ground. Clean up spilled seeds and shells daily.
  • Immediately remove all uneaten food and food bowls used by pets fed outdoors.
  • Clean outdoor grills and utensils to remove food and grease residue. Store grills securely.
  • Do not place meat or any sweet foods in compost piles.
  • Remove fruit or nuts that fall from trees in your yard.
  • Properly install electric fencing as an effective way to protect crops, beehives and livestock.

The e-blast goes on to further give advice on what to do if one encounters a bear when away from home or in the woods, etc.

If you encounter a black bear in your neighborhood or outdoors while hiking or camping, follow these safety tips:

  • Remain calm. Never run from a bear, as this may trigger its predatory instinct. Instead, slowly back away. Avoid direct eye contact, which may be perceived by a bear as a challenge. Make sure the bear has an escape route.
  • To scare the bear away, make loud noises by yelling, using a whistle, banging pots and pans, or blowing an air horn. 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.
  • Make bears aware of your presence by speaking in an assertive voice, singing, clapping your hands, or making other noises. If hiking through bear country, always make your presence known through loud talking or clapping of hands.
  • If a bear utters a series of huffs, makes popping jaw sounds by snapping its jaws or swats the ground, these are warning signs that you are too close. Slowly back away and avoid direct eye contact. Do not run.
  • 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. This is usually a non-threatening behavior.
  • Black bears will sometimes “bluff charge” when cornered, threatened, or attempting to steal food. Stand your ground, avoid direct eye contact, slowly back away and do not run.
  • If the bear does not leave, move to a secure area, such as a vehicle or a building.
  • 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 of whistles and air horns.
  • Black bear attacks are extremely rare. If a black bear does attack, fight back.

So we have a bear problem and the state is willing to acknowledge it. What they’re not willing to do is point out the elephant in the room that’s a viable and responsible option, firearms. That’s right. In the wake of NYSRPA v. Buren, more and more citizens of the Garden State are getting permits to carry. Now while the whole situation revolving around carry and where one may or may not be able to do so is about to be blown up by an overly aggressive and unconstitutional bill, right now carry is still possible for those lucky ones that have already gotten a permit.

One of the big problems, and this is something that needs to be addressed, is carrying on state land, in the state parks. Apparently firearm possession outside of prescribed hunting seasons is forbidden. According to N.J.A.C. 7:2 STATE PARK SERVICE CODE we have the following:

7:2-2.17 Target practice; firearms; fireworks 

(a) A person shall not engage in target practice with any type firearm or bow and arrow on State Park Service property, except with written permission of the Director of the Division of Parks and Forestry or Assistant Director of the Division for the State Park Service. 

(b) A person shall not possess or discharge any firearm, pellet gun, bow and arrow, slingshot or other weapon capable of injuring persons or wildlife while on State Park Service property without the specific approval of the Superintendent or designee. Hunters in compliance with the rules of the Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife and this chapter are excepted.

The matter of protection of self and others from two legged predators in New Jersey is one thing, but this is the state talking about the four legged variety being a known problem. One would think that given the restoration of our rights that this policy would be revisited. It only makes natural sense for those in bear country that have valid permits to carry be allowed to carry on state land. I highly doubt that any person within New Jersey will be able to procure the mandated “written permission” from the Director of the Division of Parks and Forestry or Assistant Director of the Division for the State Park Service in order to protect themselves on state land.

This poses quite a quandary. Murphy stopped the bear hunt. Murphy also has contempt for gun owners and will sign any bill into law that infringes on our ability to carry in the state. But we do still have the current matter of these prohibitions on carry on state land. If the state is not going to protect us from the wildlife, they should allow us to do so on our own.

What’s the NJ DEP have to say if you do have an issue with a bear that can’t be solved by their sage advice?

Report black bear damage or aggressive bears to your local police department or to Fish & Wildlife by calling 1-(877) WARN DEP (1-877-927-6337).

For more information about black bears in New Jersey, visit https://dep.nj.gov/njfw/bears/.

How comforting. The wildlife version of calling 911 and or getting a restraining order.

What’s the real solution? For starters, the Director of the Division of Parks and Forestry should start their own shall-issue permitting process, where people may apply for written permission to carry in state parks and forests. And second to that, a bill should be introduced, passed, and signed into law to change this policy entirely. 

Since we’re talking about New Jersey and both of those prospects are probable fantasies, we’re left with litigation. Unfortunately we have waves of new attacks against our right to carry in the land of 1000 diners that are going to be more pressing than this prohibition, however this does need to be addressed in the future. I guess just keep those whistles and air horns handy when in bear country or the bush.