Now that the weather is warming up, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is alerting residents that hibernating bears are waking up and coming out of their dens.

They’re looking for mates, but they’re also very hungry.

“What we’re telling the public is don’t let your property be that source of food,” said Larry Hajna, a DEP spokesman.

He pointed out bears have an excellent sense of smell so you want to “keep odors down that can attract bears to your property, like from pet food bowls or your grill or birdseed that spills.”

“It’s important you maintain some basic sanitary practices around your property so that these hungry bears don’t come knocking at your door looking for food," Hajna said.

He stressed feeding a bear is never a good idea.

“First off, it’s illegal. Intentional feeding of a bear carries a fine of up to $1,000, but also it really entices the bear to stay around in an area and that can increase the risk for an encounter,” he said. “We don’t want to see bears and people coming into interaction with each other. That just increases the chance that somebody could get hurt.”

While bears often avoid confrontation, that isn't always the case. New Jersey's only known fatal bear attack occurred in 2014, when one killed Rutgers University student Darsh Patel.

Hajna added to minimize the chance of an incident “make sure you secure all of your garbage and put it out only on the day it’s going to be collected.”

If you come face to face with a bear, in your neighborhood or out in the woods, keep a couple of things in mind.

“Do not run because that could potentially trigger the bear’s prey instinct,” Hajna said.

You want to do is make the bear aware of your presence in a non-threatening way, he said.

“Back away slowly, do not look directly at the bear, but off to the side, and speak in a very calm and assertive voice,” he said. “Make the bear know of your presence and make sure that the bear has a way to exit that situation.”

He said if you do this, the bear will more than likely just wander off and everything will turn out fine.

Hajna pointed out last year there were 110 serious category 1 bear incidents — ones where a bear is considered a threat to public safety or wildlife.

“It’s a mix of various things including raiding of crops, farmers crops, attempts to break into homes, and generally aggressive behavior,” he said.


Hajna added there were 886 category 2 bear incidents — those involving nuisance bears, such as bears that keep returning to garbage containers or birdfeeders — last year. There were 884 in 2015, and “they include raiding of garbage and just general nuisance bears."

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

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