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Public Showing Signs of Being Able to Live With Bears
Bears are many, but problems are rare
We recently received some photographs from a Jefferson NJ woman of a family of bears — a mother and two cubs — in her backyard. The adventurous bruins apparently brought down a branch of a cherry tree. That is, we presume, a decent snack.
Bear sightings are numerous every spring and summer and this year is no exception. Experts say bear populations are now at or near record levels in New Jersey. And since they're now in the midst of breeding season, more bears have been seen wandering through fields, parks and, of course, backyards.
But something is different, Only six bears have been euthanized this year. That compares to nearly 30 that were put down in 2008 and 18 in 2007, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. Bears are euthanized by the state when they are judged to be a threat to people.
Often times, it's human behavior that prompts bears to become dangerous. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) says that happens when people try to befriend bears by feeding them. That encourages bears to come back for more food and to become aggressive if it's not available.
The state held bear hunts in 2003 and 2005. One planned for 2006 was cancelled. Since then, the DEP has sought to encourage people in "bear country" to understand bears and to live with them. Besides not feeding bears, DEP advice is to put trash out in secure cans, bring in bird feeders overnight and to keep pets inside after dark. While it's hard to document if that advice is being followed, it's encouraging that fewer bears are being euthanized.
A DEP spokeswoman says it will continue "to make people more aware about how they can lessen the chances of bears causing them problems."
A continuing debate is whether the state should reinstate a bear hunt. Hunt opponents say it's not needed. However, advocates of a hunt say there are too many bears in New Jersey and that the population has to be reduced. But if the number of aggressive, or problem, bears is down, the public is showing signs of being able to live with them. That's not a reason to have another hunt.
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