Bear incidents rising in New Jersey

February 7, 2008 12:56:33 PM PST
The number of black bear-related incidents are up in New Jersey a year after the state suspended a hunt to thin the bruin population, according to new figures from the Department of Environmental Protection.

However, the most dangerous type of incidents, such as bears that break into homes and vehicles, were down.

Hunting advocates have argued that without a hunt to control the bear population, bear-related incidents such as those released Thursday will continue to increase until someone gets hurt or killed.

"You have more bears, you're going to have more problems," said Dan Van Mater, a member of the Fish and Game Council which has been pushing for a hunt. "As long as there's not a hunt, they're not going to be afraid of people."

But DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson, who canceled a planned December 2006 hunt, said the numbers aren't cause for concern especially considering that the most dangerous incidents fell.

"I don't see anything that is particularly significant," about the overall increase, she said.

Jackson also noted that while the overall number of incidents increased, there was no sharp spike, as hunters predicted. "We don't see that here."

A total of 1,407 bear-related incidents were reported to the DEP in 2007, compared to 1,301 in 2006. Those incidents include everything from bears rifling through garbage to damaging property to breaking into homes.

The highest number of reported incidents in 2007 was bear sightings. There were 372 sightings compared to 345 in 2006.

There were 319 reported incidents of bears rifling through garbage compared to 288 in 2006, and 331 nuisance complaints - when a bear repeatedly comes back to the same area - up from 271 in 2006.

The most serious bear-related problems dropped 13.8 percent over 2006 numbers. There were 32 reported incidents of bears breaking into homes in 2007 compared to 40 the previous year. In 2006, there was one incident of a bear attacking a person, and none last year.

Bears in the most serious category are considered to have lost their fear of humans and can be euthanized, Jackson said, including bears who attack bee hives and rabbits.

Bear-related activity was reported in 16 of the state's 21 counties compared to 18 the previous year.

New Jersey's black bear population, once on the verge of extinction, has rebounded spectacularly. Over the years, the bruins have been spotted in every county although they are concentrated in the northwestern corner of the state.

But with the growing population has come problems such as bears wandering through backyards, eating people's garbage and trying to break into homes and vehicles in search of food.

Many people have been pushing for a hunt to thin the bruins' numbers. Hunts were held in 2005 and 2003, each accompanied by anti-hunting protests.

After canceling the 2006 hunt, the state began focusing on non-lethal measures to control the bear population, such as educating people about how to keep bears from coming to their neighborhood.

"What we need is time to get these non-lethal management and public education programs really up and running," Jackson said. "We haven't seen anything in these numbers ... that says we're running out of time."