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New Jersey: Don't Feed The Bears!

TRENTON - New Jersey's black bears are fattening up right now to prepare for winter denning, and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson today reminded residents to avoid tempting them with an easy meal by taking special care with food storage and garbage disposal.

"Black bears are a valued part of New Jersey's natural landscape, and many residents enjoy seeing them from a distance. But when bears venture into backyards to help themselves to the contents of garbage cans or bird feeders, that's a problem," Commissioner Jackson said. "Keeping garbage in bear-resistant containers and bringing in your bird feeders are among the best ways to discourage bears from becoming a nuisance near homes."

Feeding bears either deliberately or unintentionally by carelessly leaving out food or garbage can have serious consequences for residents, their neighbors and the bears. Bears that learn to associate food with people readily become a nuisance, are more likely to damage property or exhibit aggression, and usually are destroyed to protect the public.

In New Jersey, it's illegal to feed black bears, and violators face a penalty of up to $1,000 for each offense.

Incidents involving garbage, bird feeders and nuisance behavior account for an overwhelming majority of the bear complaints reported to the DEP's Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Along with properly storing garbage, residents should avoid putting out bird feeders. Instead, consider attracting birds to backyards with nesting materials and birdhouses.

Though most of New Jersey's black bears live in the northwestern portion of the state, sightings have been reported in all 21 counties. Sightings in residential areas are not considered a problem, if the bears are exhibiting normal behavior and are not creating a nuisance or threatening public safety.

Residents who suddenly encounter a bear should remain calm. Do not feed the bear, and do not run. Make sure the bear has an escape route. Avoid direct eye contact, back up slowly and speak with a low, assertive voice.

To minimize the potential for encounters with black bears near homes, residents are advised to take the following precautions:

* Never feed a black bear.
* Use bear-resistant garbage containers, if possible. Otherwise, store all garbage in containers with tight-fitting lids and place them along the inside walls of your garage, or in the basement, a sturdy shed or other secure area.
* Put out garbage on collection day, not the night before.
* Wash garbage containers with a disinfectant solution frequently to remove odors. Draping rags soaked in bleach over your garbage bags also helps to eliminate odors.
* Avoid feeding birds, especially if you live in an area frequented by bears. If you choose to feed birds, do so during daylight hours only, between December 1 and April 1, when bears are least active. Suspend the bird feeder from a free-hanging wire, making sure it's at least 10 feet off the ground. Bring the feeder indoors at night. Clean up spilled seeds and shells daily.
* Do not place meat or any sweet food in compost piles.
* Clean up after pets. If you feed them outside, remember to pick up any leftover food and remove bowls after they have finished.
* Clean outdoor grills thoroughly after each use. Grease and food residue can attract bears.
* Report bear damage, nuisance behavior or aggressive bears to the local police department or to the DEP's hotline at 1(877) WARN DEP.

To learn more about New Jersey's black bears, visit In addition to brochures and other information about living with black bears, the DEP provides free bear education seminars to schools and civic organizations.