New Jersey Bear Problems Up Sharply

Bear Problems Correspond With Ban Of Hunt

New Jersey Herald, Bear Hunting Magazine

FRANKLIN--Another bear, another injured dog, another trap set in someone's back yard.

And it appears to be happening more this year with 10 attacks on animals --livestock, dog or rabbits-- compared with just four incidents, none involving dogs, in the same period last year.

Overall, the state Department of Environmental Protection has received substantially more bear complaints this year than last, including a more than 37 percent increase in what it terms "Category 1" calls. That category includes such cases as attacks on animals, entering or trying to get into a home, human attacks, tent or vehicle entry, aggressive bears and going after bee hives.

Category 2 complaints, which include things like raiding a camp site, provoked dog attacks, garbage, nuisance and other property damage, are also up just over 32 percent.

Sightings, raided bird feeders and other kinds of reports have seen a drop of just over 11 percent, with bird feeder raids down by more than 40 percent.

More than a quarter of the total bear-related calls to the DEP have occurred in just the past few weeks, according to the latest numbers given to the state's Fish and Game Council at its meeting on Tuesday. Since Jan. 1, the Division of Fish and Wildlife fielded a total of 581 calls. Of that, 149 came between May 29 and June 18.

"This is a hard time for bears," said DEP spokeswoman Darlene Yuhas. "The skunk cabbage they like in the spring has gotten old and the berries haven't ripened yet," she said.

There is also the department's own education program. "As people learn not to leave garbage out, the bears who used to finding something to eat around a house are now trying to get into the house," she said. "It will take a little time, but bears are smart. They will soon learn there isn't anything around there to eat and move on."

The most recent dog attack occurred in Franklin on Wednesday morning and is not reflected in the DEP's numbers.

In an e-mail to the New Jersey Herald, the dog's owner said her mother let their two pets out Wednesday morning. Within five minutes, the dogs were back at the house and one was bleeding from the mouth.

A visit to the veterinarian showed the dog, a sheltie, had been smacked hard enough by a bear to break its jaw and move its heart out of place. The estimated vet bill is $4,000.

In the period of April 30 to May 30, the Black Bear Unit of DEP received 279 calls, up substantially over the 168 received in the same time period of 2006.

April was a snowy month, one of many factors which go into how many reports DEP receives, said Yuhas. "In 2006, the commissioner (Lisa Jackson) said there is no connection between the population (of black bears) and the number of complaints."

After three decades of no bear hunt, the state allowed a one-week hunting season in 2003 and again in 2005. While a hunt was initially scheduled for last year, Jackson called it off and said there was not enough science to support a hunt. Both she and Gov. Jon S. Corzine have been vocal in opposition to a bear hunt.

The legality of a hunt, and who gets to make that decision, is before the state Supreme Court and could be settled by this fall.

"The commissioner is committed to a non-lethal approach to bear management," said Yuhas. However, the department does give local police and its own personnel the authority to kill troublesome bears, such as those trying to break into a house.

Through the end of May last year, DEP had not euthanized any bears, but already this year several have been killed, including three in one week in Vernon.

While the department sets out traps in an attempt to capture problem bears alive and "condition" them to stay away from humans, many of the traps are being vandalized.

The recent report to the council talks of several instances in Vernon of traps being sprung or being scented with human urine to keep the bears away.

One such trap had been set up near the Learn and Play Day Care Center in Vernon, but had to be moved because the bottom had "a significant amount of human urine" and the trap's door was found closed on several occasions. The trap was relocated to where another bear was causing problems.

At that location, the trap was vandalized again.

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