TRENTON, N.J. (WTXF) - You don't want to run into a black bear but it's becoming more likely, since they're emerging from winter dens, and searching for food and mates.
The main problem is bears can detect scents more than two miles away and get into your garbage, so don't unwittingly make household trash, pet foods and other food sources easily available for bears to find and eat.
Bears are naturally wary of people but can be attracted to neighborhoods, and learn to associate people with food. They may become nuisance bears, damage property, or seek handouts from people.
-- Secure your trash and eliminate pet food on decks, easy-to-reach bird feeders, or food residue in barbecues.
-- Use certified bear-resistant garbage containers, or store garbage in containers with tight-fitting lids and place them in a secure area like the inside walls of a garage, in the basement, or a sturdy shed.
-- Wash garbage containers with a disinfectant to remove odors. Put them out on collection day, not the night before.
-- Avoid feeding birds when bears are active. Otherwise, do so during daylight hours and bring feeders in at night. Suspend birdfeeders from a free-hanging wire at least 10 feet off the ground. Clean up spilled seeds and shells daily.
-- Immediately remove all uneaten food and food bowls used by pets fed outdoors.
-- Clean outdoor grills and utensils to remove food and grease residue. Store grills securely.
-- Don't place meat or any sweet foods in compost piles.
-- Remove fruit or nuts that fall from trees in your yard.
-- Install electric fencing to protect crops, beehives and livestock.
Intentional feeding of a bear is illegal and carries a fine of up to $1,000.
If you encounter a black bear, follow these safety tips:
-- Remain calm. Never run. That could trigger its predatory instinct. Instead, back away slowly. Avoid direct eye contact, which a bear may consider a challenge. Make sure the bear has an escape route.
-- To scare the bear away, make loud noises by yelling, using a whistle, banging pots and pans or blowing an air horn. 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.
-- Let bears know you're there by speaking in an assertive voice, singing, clapping your hands, or making other noises. If hiking, always make your presence known through loud talking or clapping of hands.
-- If a bear enters your home, provide it with ways to get out by propping all doors open
-- The bear may warn you're too close by uttering a series of huffs, make popping jaw sounds by snapping its jaws and swat the ground. Slowly back away. Avoid direct eye contact. Don't run.
-- If a bear stands on its hind legs or moves closer, it may be trying to get a better view or detect scents in the air. It's usually not threatening.
-- Black bears will sometimes "bluff charge" when cornered, threatened or attempting to steal food. Stand your ground, avoid direct eye contact, then slowly back away and do not run.
-- If the bear does not leave, move to a secure area, like a vehicle or a building.
-- Families in areas frequented by black bears should have a "Bear Plan" for children, with an escape route and planned use of whistles and air horns.
-- Black bear attacks are extremely rare. If a black bear does attack, fight back.
DEP wildlife experts stress a black bear simply passing through an area and not causing a specific problem -- like breaking into trash or trying to access food on peoples' properties, or posing a safety threat -- should be left alone. Leave the area and let the bear to continue on its way. When frightened, bears may seek refuge by climbing trees.
The black bear is New Jersey's largest land animal, and part of the state's natural heritage and healthy ecosystem. They've been sighted in all 21 counties, but their population is densest in the northwest, including Sussex, Warren, Passaic and Morris counties.
Report bear damage, nuisance behavior or aggressive bears in New Jersey to the Wildlife Control Unit of the DEP's Division of Fish and Wildlife at 908-735-8793. On evenings and weekends, call your local police or the DEP Hotline at 877-WARN-DEP (927-6337).
Click here to learn more about New Jersey's black bears, their history in the Garden State and ways to avoid problems with them.