A 34-year-old woman in New Jersey was attacked by a black bear last week as she walked from her Sussex County home to her mailbox.
The attack took place on Wednesday, May 11 at approximately 4:30 p.m. According to local reports, the woman saw two or three bears before she found herself engaged in “a physical altercation with one of them."
The woman sustained multiple injuries to her arm and back but has since been released from the hospital.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is still investigating the incident. According to New Jersey State Police, the bear charged and then attacked the woman before a neighbor who happened to be driving by was able to repel the animal by repeatedly honking his car horn. According to the DEP, the bear was estimated to weigh between 150 and 200 pounds and was likely one or two years old.
After the attack, witnesses called the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife to the scene. They later placed traps in the area. State officials told local media outlets that they’ll euthanize the bear if they can capture it.
Other human-bear conflicts occurring just this year in New Jersey include the killing of two pet dogs and an attack on an 81-year-old woman trying to rescue her dogs from a similar fate. That woman escaped with deep puncture wounds to her leg. The sow black bear that bit her was estimated at 400 pounds.
In the summer of 2020, a black bear attacked an 81-year-old West Milford man inside his garage. The animal sent him to the hospital where he recieved more than 30 stitches.
Less recent was the 2014 death of a 22-year-old Rutgers student who was killed by a black bear as he hiked on trails in a preserve about an hour away the campus. That was the first recorded occurrence of a black bear-related fatality in New Jersey state history.
According to some experts, New Jersey has the densest black bear population in the country with estimates of total number of bears around 5,000 individuals. Since 2018, when Gov. Murphy banned bear hunting on state lands, bear populations have reportedly doubled. In the summer of 2021, Murphy’s administration went a step further, extending the ban to the entire state by allowing the New Jersey Division of Wildlife’s Comprehensive Black Bear Management Policy to expire.
As recently as Sept. 2021, Murphy has definitively stated that he will not allow the black bear hunting season to re-open in New Jersey. This statement came after the New Jersey Fish and Game Council unanimously approved an emergency order to reinstate the hunt. Ultimately, that order was never implemented because Murphy’s hand-picked head of the NJDEP, Commissioner Shawn LaTourette, refused to sign off on it.
The site of last week’s Sussex County attack lies only a short distance from several thousand acres of state-owned land, including the 2,879-acre Bear Swamp Wildlife Management Area. Sussex County has more bears per capita than any other part of the state.
The NJDEP, which oversees the state’s Fish and Wildlife Division, did not immediately respond to questions from MeatEater about the rising number of human-bear conflicts in the state or the New Jersey Fish and Game Council’s recent order to reinstate the black bear hunt.
When fielding a similar inquiry from a New Jersey-based news outlet back in Sept. 2021, the agency declined to answer questions about the possibility of reinstating a hunt. Instead, it issued a statement that reiterated its commitment to “nonlethal bear management strategies.”
"The DEP is enhancing and expanding these nonlethal management methods with a dedicated $1.5 million in the DEP’s FY22 budget," the statement said. "These methods include the hiring of additional conservation officers for bear management, training of local officials and public education and outreach, among other enhancements."