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N.J. residents learn to bear it

Despite an increase in black-bear sightings, officials reported fewer conflicts with humans.

TRENTON - New Jersey residents have been seeing more black bears in recent years, but that doesn't mean the animals are causing serious problems.

Experts say bear populations are at or near record levels in New Jersey. And since they're in the midst of their breeding season, more bruins have been seen wandering through fields and near residential areas.

However, only six bears have been euthanized this year, all for threatening or dangerous behavior. Nearly 30 were put down in 2008 and 18 in 2007, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

And while more sightings are being reported in more areas, there appears to be fewer conflicts between bruins and humans as people learn more about the animals.

"We continue to promote our public-information campaign to make people more aware about how they can lessen the chances of bears causing them problems, no matter where they are," said Darlene Yuhas, a DEP spokeswoman.

Animal-rights activists and environmental groups, such as the New Jersey Sierra Club and the New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance, have cited the decline in the most dangerous types of bear incidents as a sign the state's nonlethal bear-management program is working.

They also argue that bear hunts, which have been held sporadically in recent years, are not needed to control the population, instead stressing simple things people can do to coexist with bears. For example, they urge residents to use bear-proof garbage containers so bruins that now go through trash don't become more aggressive.

The DEP recorded 2,024 bear-related incidents in 2008, twice as many as in 2007. And while most sightings were in the northwest, bears were seen in all 21 counties.

Sightings rose from 372 in 2007 to 700 last year. There were 632 reports of bears rifling through garbage, compared with 319 in 2007, and 692 nuisance complaints - when bears repeatedly return to an area - up from 331 in 2007.