The pandemic is partly to blame for a rise in the number of bear sightings reported to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
There have been 147 bear sightings during the first half of 2020 compared to 76 during the first half of 2019. Damage and nuisance instances are up from 234 in 2019 to 327 in 2020. In Passaic County, the number of sightings increased from 26 in 2019 to 36 so far this year.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said it comes as no surprise that more people are seeing bears.
“People have been staying at home during the quarantine, which is leading to more sightings,” said Tittel. “More important, people are cooking and eating at home much more instead of going to the mall to eat, eating at the office, or going out to dinner. Cooking and eating at home more often means more garbage.”
Bears see garbage as a food source. An abundant supply of trash means that the bear population will increase and bears will become more aggressive as they learn that houses are good places to find food. And Tittel blames the state for failing to deal with the increased garbage issue.
“New Jersey needs to teach people how to bear-proof their properties, including the importance of having no garbage out at night and using bear-proof containers and locked dumpsters,” said Tittel. “Dealing with garbage and food is how we will keep the bear population down and lower the risk of bear-human interactions. These efforts will benefit both the people and the bears.”