Friday, July 28, 2017

Bears, Oh my!

When we first moved to New Jersey, I asked a friend for advice on where to go with kids. She suggested hikes and lakes and managed to get our tired crew excited about our new location. She ended the advice with a line about watching out for bears. All this was over email and I chalked it up as a joke. Well, no joke. There are bears here! I could not be more surprised. In all of green lush Germany, there were no bears. One poor bear wandered over the mountains from Czech and was tracked by various authorities until it wandered back across the border.
When we first moved in, our neighbors explained the trash thing. Not to take our garbage the night before pick-up as the bears would get into it. Sure enough we saw plenty of evidence of bears in the trash but we never saw the bear. Not once that whole first year. We picked up bear information from our local nature center, learning that the bears in New Jersey are black bears, but often have brown fur. The average male bear in NJ is 400 pounds and the average female is 175 pounds. The largest land mammals, these bears can stand 5-7 feet tall. We started to take all this bear talk more seriously.
Last year, I noticed New Jersey had a bear hunt season. Apparently, in the mid-1900s there were less than 100 individuals in the state. With legal protection in 1953, forest regeneration and increased food sources, both crops and garbage, the bears have bounced back and can now be found in each of New Jersey’s 21 counties. In the 2016 bear season, authorities re-introduced archery for the first time since 1970. 636 bears were killed in northwest New Jersey alone. Sadly, we heard about this as a well-known bear named Pedals, as he walked around neighborhoods on his back legs, was killed, garnering him an obit in the NYT.
The first bear I saw was on the trail behind our house, while I was walking the dog with a friend (new to New Jersey). We saw the bear about 25 meters ahead of us. Our dog, Sienna, off the leash, ran right up to the bear, who was huge, 100x bigger than our small dog. The bear ambled off into the woods with the dog barking and following. I had just enough time to think “how will I tell the kids that I did not rescue the dog from the bear” when Sienna can tearing out of the woods. We all quickly walked away and kept on neighborhood streets for the rest of the day.
Typically, the police get calls about bears and patrol the neighborhood. Now that I know that it makes more sense to the high police presence on our quiet little street (which backs into the woods). There is also a text message alert to bear sightings but I am not signed up for that. In June, we saw a bear walk through our yard and then got a number of calls from neighbors. Earlier this month, Phil and I saw a bear just after we finished a hike. Now that we all believe the bears are here and they are real, it all feels okay. Somehow it’s encouraging to think that bears thrive here, in such a population dense state.


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