The bear facts in N.J.

IN THE NEWS

MARK ROSMAN

Generally speaking, I like the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). I think that in most cases the department does what it can to protect the people, animals and natural resources of the Garden State.

We did have a little chuckle in the newsroom this week, however, when the DEP sent us a press release about New Jersey’s black bears.

According to the press release, black bears have exited their winter dens throughout New Jersey and are entering their most active period of the year as they search for food and mates (two honorable pursuits), making encounters with humans in populated areas more likely.

Bears have been sighted in all 21 counties in the state, although they are most common in the northwestern section of New Jersey.

The DEP offered several helpful tips to reduce the risk of such encounters.

Among the department’s suggestions were using certified bear-resistant garbage containers; washing garbage containers frequently with a disinfectant solution to remove odors; avoiding feeding birds when bears are active; immediately removing all uneaten food and food bowls used by pets that are fed outdoors; and removing fruit or nuts that fall from trees in your yard.

Did you know that intentionally feeding black bears is illegal in New Jersey (it seems to me that it might also be a bit dangerous) and is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 per offense?

I am trying to figure out why our legislators had to make this law. If someone was caught intentionally feeding a black bear, couldn’t the law enforcement officer who caught the individual doing that just say, “Don’t do it again?”

We need a $1,000 fine for this?

In the press release, DEP wildlife experts offered the following tips to minimize conflicts with bears. Two tips in particular raised eyebrows in the newsroom. The first suggestion: If you encounter a bear, remain calm and do not run. Make sure the bear has an escape route. Avoid direct eye contact, back up slowly and speak with a low, assertive voice.

My questions for the DEP: How low is too low a voice to speak in, and how assertive is too assertive? What if you are too assertive and make the bear mad?

The second suggestion: Black bear attacks are extremely rare. Should a black bear attack, fight back. Do not play dead.

Hmmm. Now I am not saying that I don’t

trust the experts at the

DEP, but I wonder if that suggestion about engaging a bear in a fight is really the right thing to do, or maybe it is just the department’s way of having a little fun with the residents of New Jersey. You know, a way of thinning the human herd.

How exactly should you fight back against a black bear? Martial arts? A traditional boxing attack? Do I have to use my takedown headlock from my wrestling career at Manalapan High School?

Anyway, if you would like to report bear damage, nuisance behavior or aggressive bears to the Wildlife Control Unit of the DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, call them at 908-735-8793. During evenings and weekends, residents should call their local police department or the DEP hotline at 877-WARN-DEP.

And by the way, if you do fight a New Jersey black bear this spring, please send us a photo. That is something we would like to share with readers. Hopefully the photo will not be too, uh, grisly.

Mark Rosman is a managing editor with Greater Media Newspapers. He may be reached at gmntnews@gmnews.com.