The number of New Jersey black bears is steadily increasing in Sussex, DEP reports

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New Jersey's recent report of black bear incidents reinforces the reputation that Sussex County is the place where bear contacts occur the most, even in the dead of winter.

Of the 157 incidents reported statewide between Jan. 1 and April 21, just over half occurred in the county, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection's most recent Black Bear Activity Report.

The county's 80 sightings, damage reports and other encounters were nearly 50% higher than the same period a year ago, possibly reflecting greater bear activity during a relatively mild winter. 63 of this year's incidents were recorded in March and April.

According to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which compiled the report, 157 bear incidents have been reported to the state statewide this year, about the same number as the same period last year (159). Overall, 13 of New Jersey's 21 counties have had at least one incident this year.

Bear incidents by county

Warren County was second with 29 incidents, followed by Morris County with 16, Hunterdon with eight, Passaic with seven and Bergen with six.

The geography of Sussex County, with its farmlands, forested mountains and valleys, is considered by wildlife biologists to be very suitable habitat for black bears. As a result, the county has one of the highest black bear densities in the country, despite a hunting season aimed at slowing population growth.

Each month, the DEP releases a report that shows the total number of incidents reported to the department since the beginning of the year and the previous month – reports to local police departments are not counted. Between March 20 and April 21, 117 incidents were reported to the state, 63 of which – 53.8% – came from Sussex County.

The county also accounted for more than half of last year's black bear harvest. In both portions of the 2023 hunt – archery and shotgun – 497 black bears were taken to DFW check stations or examined by biologists. Of these, 257 (52%) were recorded in Sussex County.

More: One of America's oldest roads is being rebuilt in Sussex County at a cost of $11 million

A decrease in the most serious bear reports

Among the three categories the state uses to characterize bear reports, there was a decrease from 13 to eight in Category I, the most serious.

In the medium category, there was a slight decrease from 86 to 84 and an increase in Category III calls, considered the least serious, from 59 to 65. This category includes reported incidents ranging from sighting to damaged Birdhouses or vehicle collisions are enough.

Trash-related incidents, which include problems at commercial establishments, fall into Category II. The state reported 44 such incidents from Jan. 1 to April 21, 2023, compared to 39 during the same period this year.

Bear-proof trash cans are available in six cities

The state purchased 3,000 bear-resistant containers from Toter LLC of Statesville, North Carolina, as part of a $500,000 allocation in New Jersey's fiscal year 2024 budget.

These containers will be distributed in Hardyston, Hampton and Sparta in Sussex County; in Rockaway and Jefferson in Morris County; and in West Milford in Passaic County.

The containers will be made available to households in areas of cities where there has been the greatest bear activity and the most reported incidents.

“Certified bear-resistant dumpsters undergo rigorous testing and are proven to keep bears out of trash,” said Janine MacGregor, chief of DEP’s Sustainable Waste Division. “Using these containers in residential areas according to the manufacturer’s recommendations effectively prevents bears from obtaining food from trash.”

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Anna Harden

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