TRENTON, N.J. — The state’s black bear population isn’t nearly as visible as it used to be.
The Department of Environmental Protection says sightings of the state’s largest land mammal tailed off dramatically in 2017.
Earlier this month, the Asbury Park Press said that with 11 days left in the year, only 216 black bear sightings had been reported. That compares with 722 last year and an average of 852 in the seven previous years.
DEP spokesman Robert Geist said that shows the department’s bear management system has been effective at reducing the number of contacts between bears and people. He said those contacts are separated into three categories: aggressive bears, nuisance bears and simple sightings.
“The reduction among all three categories provides additional evidence we are achieving our goal of reducing population at a level commensurate with available habitat as well as reducing complaints,” Geist told the newspaper.
The DEP reinstituted a bear hunt in 2003 amid protests from animal welfare groups that have continued for each year the hunt has been held. More than 400 bears were killed in this year’s hunt, down from the record 636 killed in 2016.
Democratic Gov.-elect Phil Murphy, who takes office next month, has said he will halt the bear hunt pending research into other methods for managing the state’s bear population.
The DEP also has increased efforts to relocate bears that wander into neighborhoods. The bruins are concentrated in the northern and northwestern areas of New Jersey but have been seen in all 21 counties.
The DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife says it has spent more than $9 million since 2001 on managing the state’s black bear population.
There has been only one documented case of a bear killing a human in New Jersey. That occurred in 2014, when a Rutgers University student was attacked while hiking with friends in the Apshawa Preserve.