Last month, one black bear had quite the adventure through Burlington County. Anxious residents reported bear sightings in their backyards, roadways and parking lots over more than a week. It eventually wandered back to the woods.
But while that bear created a big buzz, animal experts say such sightings will likely become more routine.
“This is not a one-shot deal. It’s going to continue to happen,” said Kelcey Burgess, a black bear project leader and principal biologist for the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.
Black bears are native to New Jersey, and have always lived in southern areas of the state despite most sightings occurring up north. But Burgess said more bears are slowly migrating to South Jersey.
During June and July, bears are out looking for new territory. Burgess said that bears can always find their way home no matter how far they travel.
“We’ve seen them go from Passaic County down to Vineland and all the way back home on their own,” he said.
The Division of Fish and Wildlife will work with local police if residents report a bear sighting, but the wildlife experts ultimately make the call on whether to capture a bear.
Typically, officials will only intervene if the bear cannot remove itself from the area or if it is about to cross a major roadway, such as I-295 or the New Jersey Turnpike.
As the Burlington County bear was on the move last month, Mount Laurel Police said they would make no effort to capture it. However, the department sent text alerts to residents as new sightings were reported.
Burgess said South Jersey police departments have been extremely helpful in educating the public about bear behavior and safety.
Experts say bears are docile creatures and will only attack a human if cornered or feeling threatened. While bears can be dangerous and should be left alone, there is no need to fear them, Burgess said.
In North Jersey, bear sightings are a common occurrence for residents. The sightings only make headlines when the bear does something unusual. Burgess said it may take some time, but he believes South Jersey residents will eventually be less afraid to see bears.
“They’ll come to realize we’re not dealing with Godzilla here. It’s just a bear,” he said.