Its spring and that means New Jersey's black bears have emerged from winter dens throughout the state and are entering their most active period of the year.

The state Department of Environmental Protection says black bears are now  in search of food and mates, which makes encounters with humans in populated areas more likely. To reduce the risk of potential encounters, New Jersey residents, particularly those living in “bear country’’' in northwestern New Jersey, are advised to take a few simple precautions.

“You can reduce the risk of interactions with bears by taking a few common sense steps,’’ said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin. “Most important, do not feed bears, either intentionally or unintentionally. Bears that learn to associate food with people, and their homes and living areas, can turn into nuisance bears that regularly forage in neighborhoods looking for easy sources of food. The result is sometimes troubling bear-human encounters.’’ 

It is illegal to intentionally feed black bears in New Jersey and punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 per offense.

“Securing your trash and taking care to eliminate obvious sources of food for bears, such as bird feeders or food residues left in outdoor barbecue grills, is the best method to keep bears from being attracted to your home or property,” said David Chanda, director of the State Division of Fish and Wildlife.

The bear population in New Jersey has grown in recent years with bears sighted in all 21 counties, and bear-human encounters occurring more frequently in places outside of traditional bear country, including more heavily populated suburban areas of the state. 

To minimize conflicts with bears this spring:·        

  • 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. 
  • Clean outdoor grills and utensils to remove food and grease residue to minimize odors. Store grills securely. 
  • Do not place meat or any sweet foods in compost piles. 

If you encounter a bear 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.