It’s not just your imagination — black bear sightings are on the rise, with nearly twice as many in the past month alone over 2021, state officials confirmed.

From January through late spring, there have been 473 sightings and nuisance and damage reports involving bears across 17 counties, according to the Department of Environmental Protection.

Of those, 264 reports were between April 20 and May 21 — compared to 134 incidents in the same span last year.

Those complaints do not include incidents handled by police departments without DEP assistance.

NJ bear incidents 2022 (Townsquare Media/NJDEP)
NJ bear incidents 2022 (Townsquare Media/NJDEP)
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Debate continues over whether the state’s lack of a black bear hunt (since 2020) has contributed to an increase in reported encounters.

Animal advocates say not only does bear hunting fail to resolve incidents or complaints, but there’s also no direct link in reported sightings and the last hunt being two years ago.

NJ bear incidents Jan-May 2022 (Townsquare Media/NJDEP)
NJ bear incidents Jan-May 2022 (Townsquare Media/NJDEP)
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Critics of bear hunting continue to push for more proactive measures by humans — saying that black bears have lived in the state longer than being considered “game” by hunters and the answer is not to eradicate them.

They support bear-proofing garbage cans and other inadvertent food sources, which they cite as the main reason for such bruin un-ins.

“I believe in being a good neighbor and following simple 'Bear Smart' techniques to reduce human-bear encounters,” Animal Protection League of New Jersey Executive Director Angi Metler said in a statement to New Jersey 101.5.

“‘Bear Smart’ limits bird feeders and secures all garbage receptacles. In areas where bears frequent, it is vital to protect pets and animals who live outside,” she said.

The organization supports proposed legislation to limit bears' access to human food, while making exceptions for a number of wildlife and agricultural food sources.

NJ bear incidents Jan-May 2022 (Townsquare Media/NJDEP)
NJ bear incidents Jan-May 2022 (Townsquare Media/NJDEP)
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Population ‘exploding’?

When a woman was mauled by a black bear in Sussex County nearly two weeks ago, hunting advocates said it was unfortunate but unavoidable, and that she had been lucky to have survived.

“We predicted things like this happening when they shut the bear hunt down,” United Bowhunters of New Jersey president, John Erndl, previously said to New Jersey 101.5 News.

“They need to be managed for the protection of everybody,” Erndl said, pointing to other recent incidents that show black bears clashing more frequently and dangerously with humans in the densely populated state.

In the past two weeks alone, there have been bear sightings in either backyards or downtown areas of Montclair, West Caldwell, Wyckoff, Freehold and Haledon.

NJ BEAR ACTIVITY REPORT 2019 through 2022 (Townsquare Media/NJDEP)
(Townsquare Media/NJDEP)
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Sightings since 2019

However, Metler pointed out there was an increase in bear sightings during the height of COVID-19 and that was in the state’s last hunt year.

“Increases are not a result of the hunt cancellation. We’re seeing an increase in the Division of Fish and Wildlife and hunters asking everyone to call in anything related to bears. So solicitation is part of it now,” Metler said.

“The smart thing to do is educate our residents. The takeaway: keeping bears away from human-derived foods is key in reducing sightings, incidents, and increased bear reproduction,” she added.

Erin Vogt is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at erin.vogt@townsquaremedia.com

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