As the warmer weather continues people and black bears are more likely to run into each other, especially in the northwest part of the Garden State.  

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New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection says bear/human encounters were up 52 percent in 2014, with a total of 2,836 incidents, compared to 2013, when there were 1,870 bear/human encounters. This year, however, the NJDEP is reporting a 35 percent decrease in encounters so far.

"With an expanding population, the number of complaint calls have been increasing steadily over the years," said Brooke Maslo, PhD., an extension specialist in Wildlife Ecology at Rutgers University.

Maslo said the bears are becoming more active with the spring, but although it's widely believed that bears are dormant during the colder months, they are actually active in winter as well.

"Bears are not true hibernators. They are active throughout the winter season, and that is usually dictated by the temperature. If we have warm winter days, a lot of times they'll have males out," Maslo said.

According to Maslo, spring brings the availability of more food for bears.

"You have livestock being born, lots of babies, potential prey for black bears, and of course the needs of the young are demanding energy and time. But I would say that that probably the most active for a black bear would be in the late summer or early fall, as they are preparing for the winter dormancy period," Maslo said.

She said the bears have been spotted in all 21 New Jersey counties.

"Black bears are expanding their range into the southern portion of New Jersey," Maslo said.

Maslo's advice if you happen upon a bear? Stay away.

"The first and best defense is to take a wide circle around it," she said.

She said most people are usually pretty quiet when they're out in nature because you want to observe the wildlife, you don't want to disturb it.

"So one thing to do when you are walking in bear country is to sort of make your presence known. Speaking loudly as you are coming around the bend. You can clap. You can do things to just make sure the bears detect you before you detect them so that they can escape into the environment or evade you," she said.

Maslo's advice for property owners concerned about bear intrusions in their backyard is to keep trash and recyclables contained.

"Bears are opportunists, just like people. And so if you have a bird feeder out or garbage that is unprotected that is easily accesible or even recycling that smells like food, then a bear is going to come and try to get free food," said Maslo, who has written an overview of New Jersey's black bear population titled "Living with Black Bears in New Jersey."

She said another big issue is bear predation of agricultural crops, especially corn. Maslo says it is not necessarily that bears are being aggressive, but she cautions people against feeding feeding bears. If those bears get used to these human-mediated resources, then their inherrent fear of people will disintegrate more rapidly, Maslo said.


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