On New Year’s Day a wild black bear climbed up a tree in the small city of Summit, Union County and fell asleep. The bear sighting brought out large crowds of curious people to view the animal.
The bear became an instant tourist attraction as cell phones and cameras clicked away photos and videos. Even TV news crews showed up to film the bear and to interview local residents.
Police had to move the crowds far enough back to secure the area. The police said wildlife officials had been notified and warned residents not to approach the bear.
The NJ Fish and Wildlife Division decided not to tranquilize the bear while it is was high up in the tree. It would be left alone with the hopes that it would come down on its own and head back into the woods of the Watchung Reservation, a large wooded area which is only a few miles away where there is a significant bear population.
Some people interviewed by the media made some remarkable outlandish and stupid statements, not understanding the severity of the situation. The fact that a wild bear was in a tree in a residential neighborhood didn’t faze them. Crowds which gathered made it a circus-type atmosphere. A black bears’ behavior is quite unpredictable and if put in a stressful situation who knows what the outcome would be. This is simply not understood by stupid and misinformed people.
Here’s a sampling of a few statements made; one woman said, “I think it’s great! I love living so close to nature, that’s why we moved out of the city and black bears aren’t going to hurt anyone as long as you leave them alone.” Another woman said the bears in a good place and happy, the children are happy; so all is good and she could not understand why people would want to hunt such a cute animal.
Maybe these folks should be reminded of many recent incidents in New Jersey involving bear attacks. Here are a few:
- A Boy Scout leader was attacked and injured this past December 20th while hiking with three scouts in a wooded area in Rockaway Township, Morris County.
- A 22-year-old Rutgers student was killed by a bear in November 2014 while hiking with friends in the Apshawa Preserve in West Milford.
- A NJ hunter fearing for his life shot and killed a bear climbing the tree stand he was in last January while deer hunting in Hunterdon County.
- Pets, including dogs and rabbits, and livestock, including goats and llamas have been killed all across Northwest New Jersey in recent years.
Bears are not cute, cuddly animals; they are wild animals to be respected from afar. When bears lose their fear of man of which many have done, dangerous and deadly encounters can and do occur.
Black bears have been spotted in all 21 counties in the state. Many 300 to 450 pound bears exist across the state. They are a strong and highly intelligent animal which can live up to 20 years.
The New Jersey State Federation of Sportsman’s Club says that the state has the densest black bear population in all of North America. The NJ DEP estimates that there are as many as 3 bears per square miles in certain northwestern parts of the state. Most states with black bear populations have one bear per three square miles.
Most parents don’t have the common sense or know-how to teach children about bears and their behaviors and how to deal with and avoid bear encounters. We shouldn’t teach children to be terrified by the presence of bears but to inform them on how to safely handle the situation if a bear is present.
Maybe, the opportunity is here for educators and wildlife experts to teach school children about bears and that the way things took place in Summit could have been handled differently by residents. Education is the key for people living in bear country.
DEP wildlife experts stress that a black bear simply passing through an area and not causing a specific problem, such as breaking into trash or otherwise trying to access food sources on peoples’ properties or posing a safety threat, should be left alone. The Division of Fish and Wildlife advises people to leave the area and allow the bear to continue on its way. When frightened, bears may seek refuge by climbing trees.
The Division of Fish and Wildlife offers the following tips to minimize conflicts with bears:
- Secure your trash and eliminate obvious sources of food such as pet food on decks, easy-to-reach bird feeders, or food residues left in 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 bird feeders 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.
- Install electric fencing as an effective way to protect crops, beehives and livestock.
- If you encounter a bear that is standing its ground, remain calm and do not run. Make sure the bear has an escape route. Avoid direct eye contact, back up slowly and speak with a low, assertive voice.
Report bear damage, nuisance behavior or aggressive bears to the Wildlife Control Unit of the DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife at (908) 735-8793. During evenings and weekends, residents should call their local police department or the DEP Hotline at 877-WARN-DEP (877-927-6337). Learn more about New Jersey’s black bears and ways to avoid problems with them.