Bears in Maplewood? Not a Frequent Phenom But Here’s How to Handle

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A bear was captured outside the Hilton Brach of the Maplewood Library on April 27, 2016. Photo by Jeff Levine

A bear was captured outside the Hilton Brach of the Maplewood Library on April 27, 2016. Photo by Jeff Levine

Yes, we know. There are probably much more pressing problems to address in Maplewood — and South Orange — than the rare and infrequent wandering black bear.

But a reader brought it to our attention that there could be bears in the South Mountain Reservation and that, perhaps, locals could do with some safety tipis on how to avoid or deal with bears when hiking.

The concerns are not unfounded: On April 27, a 227-lb. black bear was captured at the Hilton Branch of the Maplewood Library. The bear had been spotted in Millburn near the Reservation the night before, then wandered into Vauxhall and Hilton before heading up a tree branch outside the library branch.

This bear sighting was not an anomaly.

Bears wander into Millburn, Maplewood, Union and surrounding towns from time to time. Last year, a bear was reported in Millburn; in 2012 a bear was captured near Union’s Town Hall.

After the 2015 Millburn incident, Patch reported that bear sightings in the spring have been an “increasingly common phenomenon” in the area in recent years, and that they typically peak in May and June during the animals’ mating season, according to the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife.

According to the Division of Fish and Wildlife, “the most common bear problem New Jersey’s residents experience is black bears getting into their garbage. Bears are attracted to neighborhoods by garbage odors, so properly securing your garbage is one of the best ways to prevent bears from becoming a nuisance in your community.”

If you’re in the Reservation, this advice from might be more apropos:

“Make your presence known while you are hiking. Don’t be a stealth hiker. Hike in a group, the more the merrier. Making noise such as talking and singing gives an early warning to bears that they are not alone. This will allow them to walk away from the noise to avoid an encounter.

“Be on the lookout for active bear signs such as fresh tracks or fresh bear scat. If possible, avoid feeding areas such as berry patches and stream banks where bears may be feeding or drinking. Hiking in midday will reduce the chance of encountering a bear, as they are less active at that time.”

What if you do encounter a bear?

If you’re far enough away, back away.

During a close encounter on a trail, “you should stop, stand your ground, and assess the situation. If the bear does not instantly come towards you, it is best to slowly back away while keeping an eye on the bear to make sure it isn’t following you. If a black bear starts to come towards you, make yourself as big as possible and in a stern voice tell it to go away. If the bear continues to come at you, use your bear spray when he is about 20-30 feet away to deter it from coming any closer.”

And, if you’re on Springfield Avenue, you might want to call 9-1-1.

Read more bear safety tips here.


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