August 17, 2022

Black Bear Sightings Are on the Rise In Mercer County

By Anne Levin

With multiple black bears seen roaming areas of Princeton and other parts of Mercer County, the municipality is advising residents to be cautious, but not panic.

No sightings were reported in Princeton on Monday. But on Tuesday morning, a bear was spotted in the area of Mercer Meadows and Yeger Road, Lawrence Township. The Lawrence Township Police Department issued an advisory urging that children and pets be brought indoors.

In Princeton, the animals have recently been spotted near Herrontown Woods; around Tyson Lane and Poe Road; Longview Drive and Hartley Avenue; and Riverside School.

The bears are most active just before sunrise and after sunset. According to information posted on the municipal website, “Do not run from it; running may trigger a chase response. If you encounter a bear that is feeding, do not approach it and slowly back away. A bear on a food source will aggressively defend it.”

The website also recommends making a bear aware of your presence by speaking in an assertive voice, singing, clapping, or making other noises. Make sure a bear has an escape route, especially if it makes its way into your home or garage. Prop the doors open.

Bears can usually be kept at a distance if residents follow certain safety recommendations. “The biggest thing we’re saying to people is to not have any kind of inadvertent attractants around,” said James Ferry, Princeton’s animal control officer. “Take bird feeders down, and secure trash cans; even bring them into the house for the next couple of weeks while this goes on. The good news is that we’re getting a little closer to hibernation season.”

According to the website of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, New Jersey Fish and Wildlife, black bears are the largest land mammal in the state, “an integral part of the state’s natural heritage and a vital component of healthy ecosystems. Since the 1980s the Garden State’s black bear population has been increasing and expanding its range both southward and eastward from the forested areas of northwestern New Jersey.”

The municipal website advises avoiding direct eye contact with the animals.

“To scare the bear away, make loud noises by yelling banging pots and pans or using an airhorn,” it reads. “Make yourself look as big as possible by waving your arms. If you are with someone else, stand close together with your arms raised above your head. The bear may utter a series of huffs, make popping jaw sounds by snapping its jaws, and swat the ground. These are warning signs that you are too close. Slowly back away.

“If a bear stands on its hind legs and moves closer, it may be trying to get a better view or detect scents in the air. It is usually not a threatening behavior. Black bears will sometimes ‘bluff charge’ when cornered, threatened or attempting to steal food. Stand your ground, avoid eye contact, then slowly back away and do not run.”

Black bear attacks are extremely rare. “If a bear does attack, fight back,” reads the website. “Aim for the snout and/or eyes. Use anything at hand (knife, sticks, rocks, binoculars, backpack, or kick the bear), and immediately call police. Families who live in areas frequented by black bears should have a ‘bear plan’ in place for children, with an escape route and planned use of whistles and horns.”

Black bear damage and nuisance behavior should be reported to the DEP’s 24-hour hotline at (877) 927-6337.