After the winter that wasn’t - minimal snowfall and warm temperatures – black bears in New Jersey are emerging from hibernation a bit earlier than usual.

Larry Ragonese of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) says that bears have been sighted earlier than usual, but there has not been an increase in bear sightings compared to previous years.

Ragonese notes that black bears have been roaming around since mid-to late-March, in search of food with their cubs in tow.

Anneli Svensson of East Windsor  had a black bear visit her home near the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area. Svensson was startled when she spotted the bear on her deck.

“I was about to step out on the deck when I looked out […] If I had stepped out without glancing out the window I would have stepped out right in front of him – my heart just stopped and I shut the door and I locked it,” Svensson said. She said was lucky to not come in direct contact with the bear.

Ragonese stated that, “Simply most important thing [to do] if you see a bear and the bear is wandering through countryside - there's nothing to do – enjoy it!”

Ragonese mentioned that if you do come across a bear that is aggressive or a nuisance, the first step would be to call the local police department, who is aware of the black bear issue in the state and can take the proper steps to get this issue under control.

Black bears have been sighted in all 21 counties in New Jersey, with the most sightings occurring in North and Northwestern New Jersey. The most frequently-occupied counties are Morris, Warren, Sussex, Northern Passaic, Parts of Hunterdon, Somerset and Bergen. Though the Northern part of the state has the most reported sightings, Central and Southern New Jerseyans should not let their guard down. Larry Ragonese said that last year there were black bear sightings even in southern towns such as Cape May and Atlantic City.

Here are some important precautions to take to reduce the risk of coming into contact with a black bear, according to the DEP:

  • Do not leave open pet food or bird feeders outdoors
  • Use garbage cans with tight fitting lids and wash frequently to remove odors
  • Remove fruit and nuts that fall from trees in your yard
  • Clean grills of grease and food residue

Some tips on what to do if you ever encounter a bear, according to

  • Avoid running from black bears, they will recognize you as prey and attack
  • Make a lot of noise – clap and speak loudly to alert them of your presence
  • Make yourself look bigger, raise your arms – do not be overly aggressive
  • If the bear is huffing or swatting the ground – back away slowly and do not make eye contact

To learn more about New Jersey’s black bears and ways to avoid problems with them, visit the DEP's website.

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