Bear encounter in Sussex County shows that education works

30 Jun 2020 | 10:19

To the Editor:

Today (June 22) a hiker encountered a bear while sitting on a boulder along the Stairway to Heaven trail in Sussex County. The hiker calmly backed away as the young black bear walked past them only feet away without looking at the hikers again.

The bear encounter in Sussex County on the Stairway to Heaven trail shows that bear education works. The hikers did what they were supposed to do by calmly backing away, and we need to be doing more of that.

Even though there are only a few thousand bears there are over one-hundred thousand people living in bear country. An effective bear education program can help prevent serious injury or possible death for people either hiking or camping. Sierra Club runs almost 100 hikes every year in bear county and we have no problems because no one brings food with them during the hike and we keep our distance. It shows that education works.

New Jersey needs a real bear management plan, one that includes strong education and uses warning signs in the region, educational materials at trail heads, enforcing not feeding the bears, and garbage management. According to a report by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Bear Activity Report, sightings of bears dropped by 80%, and Damage and Nuisance reports dropped by 70% since 2009. Encounters with aggressive bears tied the lowest total since 2010 with two in 2017. Despite this data, there was a second phase of the bear hunt for 2019.

There needs to be warning signs in bear country with posts at all trailheads with do’s and don’ts. These will do a lot more in managing the bear population than having an unnecessary hunt. If bears start seeing houses as sources of food, we will see more bear human conflict and more problems.

Bears will change from a nuisance bear to an aggressive bear and will be put down. This will justify the hunt. Whether there is a hunt or not, there’s no real management plan in place. The black bear is a symbol that we still have wild places left in the state and that we haven’t completely given over to sprawl. We need Governor Murphy to create a real education and keep his commitment to put a moratorium on the hunt.

Jeff Tittel, Director

New Jersey Sierra Club