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Bear Tips for Hikers
Have you ever seen a bear while out hiking?
It can be an exciting and rewarding experience to glimpse our area's wildlife in its natural environment. While black bears are by nature wary of humans, they are also intelligent and curious, and bear sightings have been reported in every county in New York and New Jersey. Hikers and outdoor enthusiasts have a special responsibility to protect themselves and the wildlife they love. By following some common-sense rules--the first being: Don't feed the bears!--all members of the woods community can share the forest and the trail.
BLACK BEAR FACTS:
- Bears are a common and important part of our area's ecosystem.
- Black with a brown muzzle, the average male black bear weighs 300 pounds. The average female weighs 170 pounds. They get that big by eating berries, seeds, and bugs, but also carrion, trash, and pet food. Their sense of smell is much better than a dog's.
- Feeding a bear actually harms it by ruining it's natural foraging behavior.
BLACK BEAR TIPS:
- Don't EVER feed a bear! It's dangerous, illegal, and it's what makes bears problematic and aggressive.
- Pay attention for scat, tracks, and claw marks. Take special care when hiking off-trail or in areas with berries. Clap, sing, or otherwise make noise to alert bears to your presence. Keep your dog on a leash.
- Use a bear canister to store camp food and garbage. If you must use a hang, use a dark rope at least 15 feet from the ground and 10 feet from trees. Don't burn your garbage; bears can still smell it. Don't cook near your tent. Keep your campsite clean. Always keep all food (and garbage) away from your tent.
- Don't run if you see a bear. Instead, back away slowly. Try not to make eye contact. Make noise instead, and wave or raise your arms so you look bigger. When a bear raises up on its hind legs, it is usually just trying to get more information, not issuing a threat. If a black bear swats the ground, huffs, or bluffs a charge, you are too close to it.
Remember, bear attacks are really very rare. But if a black bear does attack you, fight back. (This advice does not apply to encounters in other regions with grizzly bears; in those cases you should curl up and play dead.) Learn more about black bears in our region at http://www.njfishandwildlife.com/bearfacts.htm