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NJ Bear sightings on the rise

June 20, 2009 8:03:04 PM PDT
New Jersey residents have been seeing more black bears in recent years, but that doesn't mean the animals are causing serious problems. Experts say bear populations are now at or near record levels in New Jersey and other nearby states. And since they're now in the midst of their breeding season, more bruins recently have been seen wandering through fields and near residential areas.

However, only six bears have been euthanized this year, all of them for threatening or dangerous behavior. That's compared with nearly 30 that were put down in 2008 and 18 in 2007, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

And while more sightings are being reported in more areas, there appears to be fewer conflicts between bruins and humans as people gain more knowledge about the animals.

"We continue to promote our public information campaign to make people more aware about how they can lessen the chances of bears causing them problems, no matter where they are," said Darlene Yuhas, a DEP spokeswoman.

Animal rights activists and environmental groups - such as the New Jersey Sierra Club and the New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance - have cited the decline in the most dangerous types of bear incidents as a sign the state's non-lethal bear management program is working.

They also argue that bear hunts - which have been held sporadically in recent years - are not needed to control the bruin population, instead stressing simple things people can do to coexist with bears. For example, they urge residents to use bear-proof garbage containers, so bruins that now go through trash don't become more aggressive.

Obtaining such containers is part of the DEP's non-lethal management program.

Its goal is to educate people about bears and their habits and how they can limit potential interactions. It also calls for adverse conditioning - such as shooting bears with rubber bullets when they raid garbage cans or get too close to homes - so the bruins will hopefully avoid such behavior in the future.

Overall, the DEP recorded 2,024 bear-related incidents in 2008, twice as many as in 2007.

While many of those incidents were just sightings, the data includes everything from bears rifling through garbage to damaging property to breaking into homes. And while most of the sightings were in northwestern Jersey, bears were seen in all of the state's 21 counties.

The number of sightings rose from 372 in 2007 to 700 last year. There were 632 reported incidents of bears rifling through garbage compared to 319 in 2007, and 692 nuisance complaints - when bears repeatedly comes back to the same area - up from 331 in 2007.

Those numbers have spurred arguments from hunting advocates that another bear hunt is needed to control the bruin population. But after hunts were held in 2005 and 2003, the DEP canceled a proposed December 2006 hunt, saying the state needed to focus more energy on other ways to curb bear and human interactions.


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