There were numerous numbers of black bear sightings, the only type of bear found in our region, this past spring. Many people asked why? There are several factors as to why.
Some would blame loss of habitat but other more pertinent reasons would be that this is an active time of year for bears after coming out of hibernation plus there have been significant increases in black bear population having resulted from years of hunting restrictions and the dramatic comeback of our forests. As bear numbers increase so have their ranges and so have conflicts with humans.
Young male bears, just over 1-year-old are usually on the move during this time of year as their mothers drive them off to make room for next winter’s newborns (bear mating season usually takes place from June to mid-July). The young bears then search for their own territories, sometimes in areas that are not used to regularly seeing any bears.
Bear population estimates in Pennsylvania in the 1970’s was around 4,000. Today there are around 18,000.
Since the 1980’s, New Jersey’s black bear population has increased and their range has expanded both southward and eastward from the forested areas of the northwestern part of the state. Sightings of black bears have been confirmed in all 21 of New Jersey's counties. It was estimated that only 50 bears existed in the Garden State during the 1970's. Today there are more than 3,500 bears in the state.
Bears are typically seen yearly around the Delaware River north of the Easton area, north of Bangor towards the Blue Mountains and in Northwest New Jersey where there are large numbers of bruins. But rare sightings have occurred in Bethlehem, Bethlehem Township, Saucon Valley, Lower Nazareth Township, Forks Township, near Parkland High School in South Whitehall Township and one which even caused a school delay at Phillipsburg High School. These sightings have caused some excitement and even fear.
Several bear sightings were even been reported in Montgomery and Bucks counties; including one bear which was killed by a vehicle near Interstate 95. Also, there were five recent sightings in heavily populated Burlington and Camden counties in New Jersey.
Every year there are usually reports of livestock being killed in rural areas of Warren County, NJ, particularly goats. This past spring, a rabbit was pulled from its cage inside an open garage and killed.
Black bears ordinarily aren't aggressive toward people, unless one gets between a mother and her cubs. But they are wild animals with unpredictable behaviors. Never feed bears and stay clear if you spot one. People feeding bears are a serious safety problem as bears lose their fear of humans and will routinely approach people. Feeding bears intentionally in both PA and New Jersey is illegal and you could face a stiff fine. Up to $5,000 in PA and up to $1,000 in NJ. Click here for some bear safety tips.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission says: “Black bears will consume almost anything. They will eat human food, garbage, bird feed, pet foods and livestock feed. They also raid cornfields and beehives. Once bears find easily accessible food sources, whether on a farm or in a housing development, they lose their wariness of people and will keep coming back as long as food is available. The best way to get rid of these unwanted visitors is to remove the food source for a month or more.”