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Given the shocking (and unprecedented) fatal bear attack in Apshawa Preserve, I'm wondering if hikers intend to change their hiking plans (at least for the next few weeks). It does seem the hikers in that case made a lot of mistakes, but it's still shocking. Most NJ bears I've seen run away as fast as they can. 

Also, do most NJ hikers carry bear spray ? I've carried it before in some of the Western Parks with grizzlies, but its large and unwieldy (and I was concerned then about it's going off by accident). 

Thanks !

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Hello AK - This was a sad but extremely rare incident. We won't be changing anything and will just be alert and cautious as usual.

As far as I know, bear spray in NJ is limited to 3/4 of an ounce. Not sure if that would be enough to deter, and I don't know of any hikers who carry it in NJ. We too have only carried bear spray hiking out west with grizzlies.

--Dawn

Bear safety resources:

Thanks, Dawn. There just seem to be more bears around this year than usual,  so being alert is even more warranted than usual. 

There's really no reason to change hiking plans either temporarily or permanently.  What happened to the hiker at Apshawa could have happened to anyone, so you really either need to make the choice to go into the woods or not.  I'm not sure it's fair to say that the hikers "made a lot of mistakes" though.  We don't really know what happened other than the fact that at some point they realized they were being stalked and that they ran. Running obviously was the wrong decision, but that's easy to Monday morning quarterback sitting in front of a computer, and not staring down a charging 300lb bear.   

The most logical explanation for the bear's aggressive pursuit is that someone dropped a granola bar.  I have had many close encounters with black bears and never found them to be aggressive at all.

That's not been stated in any report about the attack.  This was a bear that was far too comfortable around humans, which is the problem with a large portion of the bear population in New Jersey.  Younger, smaller bears like this one (4 year old, 300lb male) are being pushed out of prime feeding areas in the deeper woods by older, larger, and more established males.  These younger smaller bears take up residence near backyards and begin to associate humans with an abundance of food.  What likely happened here is that the bear began following the hikers because in his mind, where there are people, there is likely garbage, bird feeders, pet food, etc...  When the hikers realized they were being followed, they ran, triggering the bear's prey drive.  New Jersey has a bear problem and hikers should plan accordingly.  


I've run into bears at the DWG that are extremely wary of humans-I've probably been in the vicinity of many that I never saw because they made sure to give me a wide berth.  The bears that range closer to human habitat are a different story.  Apshawa is surrounded on three sides by houses, and for a bear, 550 acres is really not that much territory.  New Jersey only has enough suitable habitat for about 1,500 bears, and right now, the numbers are significantly higher.

the current population estimates of bears in the state, are between 2,400 & 2,800, which is down from an estimate of 3,200 before the bear hunts resumed in 2010.

That doesn't sound like a lot but this is the actually the estimate for bears only in northwestern new jersey, covering (sussex,warren,morris, western passaic & very small areas of bergen and hunderton counties I believe)

So that's a lot of bears for just that one specific area of the state. the fact this hasn't happened before with so many bears sharing the same woods with hikers should be proof that its not much to worry about.

I'm surprised that bears haven't gotten a strong foothold in the pine barrens yet, that seems like a large enough area that they would be able to do well. I guess not enough wander down that far south.

So that's a lot of bears for just that one specific area of the state. the fact this hasn't happened before with so many bears sharing the same woods with hikers should be proof that its not much to worry about.

Not all bears are created equal.  Plenty of us have encountered bears deep in the DWGNRA, Newark Watershed, etc...and other wilderness areas of the state and had no problem.  I would be much more wary of hiking near more populated areas where the bears spend time hanging out in backyards and around dumpsters.  

I'm surprised that bears haven't gotten a strong foothold in the pine barrens yet, that seems like a large enough area that they would be able to do well. I guess not enough wander down that far south.

I think we will see more there eventually as there are bears down there, just not many.  Migration through the midsection of the state I think presents the biggest barrier.  There are corridors for wildlife to pass through heavily traveled roadways like Route 1 and 195, but in general I think bears taking that route would be the exception rather than the rule.  

Everybody is making good points on this thread.  I hate to see the media blow this bizarre incident out of proportion.  Bears and humans are sharing a habitat and that can lead to conflict.  

I don't see bears in the Pine Barrens because of lack of shelter and food.  

I fear grizzlies, not black bears. I do carry bear spray in NJ.

I still say we don't know the whole story about what happened at Apshawa.

I don't see bears in the Pine Barrens because of lack of shelter and food.  

Bears roamed the entirety of the state prior to European settlement and the push westward, clearing land for farming, and cutting forests for timber and fuel.  There's certainly no lack of wild berries, acorns, etc...in the Pinelands.  As far as shelter, I think you're operating on the assumption that bears need some kind of rock structure to den in.  That's a children's book myth.  Bears will den in any suitably sized hole or recess in the side of an embankment, the root system of a tree, a blowdown, or any number of woodland structures-here are some pictures of bear dens:

I fear grizzlies, not black bears. I do carry bear spray in NJ.

There's no reason to fear all black bears.  Just the bears that have become habituated to associate people with a nearby food source, which is undoubtedly why the bear was following the hikers in the first place.  The bear assumed that since there were humans in the area, there would likely be an easy source of food nearby.  

I still say we don't know the whole story about what happened at Apshawa.

Of course we do.  What more is there to know?  Wild animals can be dangerous under certain circumstances.  I suppose that's an uncomfortable truth for some people, but it's the truth nonetheless.  

 

Here's some new information taken from a nj.com article.

West Milford Police Chief Timothy Storbeck said that two hikers told Patel and his four friends that an aggressive black bear had stalked them for about 10 minutes. The couple recommended that the Edison men not continue up the trail, but they ignored the advice, police said.

The inexperienced hikers from Edison soon encountered the black bear and took photos of the animal before it closed in on them, Storbeck said. The men panicked and fled in separate directions to escape from the bear. Patel's body was discovered about two hours after a friend called 911. Incident reports from the investigation describe multiple bite and claw wounds on the body.

West Milford Police Chief Timothy Storbeck said that two hikers told Patel and his four friends that an aggressive black bear had stalked them for about 10 minutes. The couple recommended that the Edison men not continue up the trail, but they ignored the advice, police said.

The inexperienced hikers from Edison soon encountered the black bear and took photos of the animal before it closed in on them, Storbeck said. The men panicked and fled in separate directions to escape from the bear. 

Again, to be fair to the hikers, if they followed what seems to be the "conventional wisdom" about NJ black bears, they would have assumed that the bear was harmless and that the other hikers were overreacting.  The lesson here is that black bears can, indeed, be dangerous.  

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