Black bears have started coming out of their semi-hibernation in New Jersey.

When winter began, rather than actually hibernating, black bears went into what’s known as a state of torpor, where their body temperature and metabolic rates drop so they’re able to survive long periods without food.

According to Rutgers University ecology and natural resources professor Brooke Maslo, the process of coming out of torpor has been delayed a bit this spring by the colder and snowier than normal weather we’ve had because it’s stunted some of the vegetation growth bears typically eat after their long winter nap.

“I think the weather plays a little bit of a role but it’s really about food resources,” she said.

“There’s not much vegetative growth around so a lot of times they’re going to congregate in wetland areas, places where you have more of those emergent herbaceous plants.”

She said once bears do come out of their dens, they are not interested in establishing territory or finding a mate.

“They’re most interested in restoring their fat reserves that they used up over the winter dormancy period, so they’re interested in eating.”

She stressed if you do see a bear wandering around looking for food, make sure you keep your distance.

“You don’t really know what the condition of the bear is. Is it groggy or is it just laying, enjoying warming up — or are there cubs, is it a female?"

She noted while bears are not usually interested in attacking someone, you don’t want to have the animal feel it’s only escape route is through you.

“Bears are capable of being predators but, generally speaking, they’re secretive, they’re somewhat shy, they prefer cover, they want to escape rather than attack.”

She also pointed out the more interactions bears have with humans, whether it’s a bird feeder, a grill or a backyard garbage can, the more their fear of humans wanes, which presents a dangerous situation for bears and people.

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You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com