In Search of New Jersey's Wild Bears
March 5, 2018 9:35 PM   Subscribe

"[M]y ambition to see a bear in my back yard has not been completely insane. By the latest estimate, there are about twenty-five hundred bears in New Jersey now. Wild bears. Black bears. And perhaps not a few that have immigrated from Pennsylvania in search of a better life. In recent years, bears have been spotted in every New Jersey county." John McPhee in The New Yorker
posted by bryon (22 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
*sigh* I’d love to see a bear in my backyard... of course living in SF if a bear of any type was in my neck of the woods something has gone terribly terribly wrong...

I’ll just content myself with the 10:30 feeding of the grizzlies at the SF zoo. Much safer than backyard bears.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:23 PM on March 5, 2018

If you enjoy John McPhee’s New Jerseyana, his book on The Pine Barrens is a terrific read.
posted by graymouser at 2:21 AM on March 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Black bears will sometimes “bluff charge” when cornered, threatened or attempting to steal food. Stand your ground, avoid direct eye contact, then slowly back away and do not run.

We've taken this whole stand-your-ground idea too far. In FL, it's an excuse to shoot teenagers. NJ is ready to sacrifice citizens to the local bear population in the name of the cause. I say concede at the earliest possible opportunity and we will all be better off.
posted by she's not there at 2:29 AM on March 6, 2018

I hope he gets to see a bear in his backyard.
posted by TedW at 3:55 AM on March 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

There's one type of bear I'd wager is still pretty common in San Francisco.
posted by Small Dollar at 4:18 AM on March 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

I just ran a game of Honey Heist last night so this is timely.
posted by maurice at 4:21 AM on March 6, 2018

The Turtleback Zoo in Essex County (NJ) has a black bear exhibit that's set up so you can go into a little kitchen and look at the bears through the window.

My dad works at Ramapo Community College, which is in northern Bergen County; they've had a couple of bear scares on campus since he started there a few years back. They get an email telling folks to stay away when that happens.
posted by damayanti at 4:27 AM on March 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

*sigh* I’d love to see a bear in my backyard.

You really wouldn't. I dated someone for a long time that grew up in prime bear territory in New Jersey.

They're both smart and lazy, so once they figure out that there's an easy source of food in your yard, they just keep coming back. They love stuff like baby diapers in the trash. They're a threat to domestic animals, livestock, and humans in places like Jersey and because they're persistent, you get into the situation where the bear has to be put down for the safety of the humans.
posted by Candleman at 4:35 AM on March 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

Somehow I had gotten the idea that John McPhee was no longer among the living, so this really brightened my day!
posted by JanetLand at 5:33 AM on March 6, 2018

Buried deep in the (brilliant) piece, this awful, incredible sentence:

In 2002, a bear in Sullivan County, New York, removed an infant from a stroller, carried her into the woods, and killed her.

Googling gives some authenticity to the extraordinary story.
(My initial scepticism has fairly shallow, purely anecdotal roots - we have a weekend bolthole in Sullivan County and I've had countless conversations with the local guy who does garden work about bear behavior. He's an experienced hunter, and it is one of his themes that healthy bears don't mess with humans, unless strongly provoked...)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:23 AM on March 6, 2018

I ran into McPhee at an event several years ago, just after I'd finished reading "Looking for a Ship." After I finished embarrassing myself with fanboy praise, I asked him what ever happened to his protagonist, Andy Chase. McPhee said Andy was now an instructor at the Merchant Marine Academy. It was reassuring somehow, seeing as how he deeply immerses himself in the lives of the people he writes about, to know that he remains in touch with his subjects afterward.

Also: McPhee was giving a talk at a nearby college, and friend of mine wrote a profile of him for the newspaper - a daunting task, profiling a master of the profile. Afterward he contacted McPhee and asked him what he thought of the piece. "Just a few bits of lint here and there," McPhee wrote, which my friend took as high praise.
posted by martin q blank at 6:46 AM on March 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

I saw a black bear while hiking in Virginia near Old Rag and a couple of miles from the trailhead. We were running behind schedule and dusk was falling so we were trying to make good time. The sound of crackling brush and a large dark shape moving among the trees caught our attention. I think the bear noticed us as well but it was not very concerned.
posted by exogenous at 7:17 AM on March 6, 2018

Cannot find the link I was looking for but there is a monastary in Bosnia where they keep pet bears in honor of some hundreds-of-years-ago Orthodox saint who did some bear miracle.

I found this photo.

It's undoubtedly a bunch of work and I am sure feeding them ain't a trivial expense but you can domesticate the black bear but probably not under the approval of any city animal control code.
posted by bukvich at 8:15 AM on March 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

healthy bears don't mess with humans, unless strongly provoked

This is nearly always true of Eastern black bears, generally true of grizzlies but not entirely, and definitely not true of polar bears, where your main protection is that you are not covered with delicious, delicious seal fat and thus there are other things they'd rather eat.

But yes, humans can generally get along with black bears as long as they respect their space.
posted by tavella at 8:35 AM on March 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you happen along and find some cute cubs, do not get between the cubs and the mom.
posted by sammyo at 9:21 AM on March 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

of course living in SF if a bear of any type was in my neck of the woods something has gone terribly terribly wrong...

True, but there are black bears in the forested part of San Mateo county, and my understanding is that they have been pushing north. Today, Los Gatos—tomorrow, the Mission!
posted by andrewpcone at 10:28 AM on March 6, 2018

One of my favorite pictures of a black bear was taken in West Milford, NJ. This particular bear was treed by an orange tabby cat.

The area I live in is heavily populated by black bears. We see them fairly frequently; you get used to having them around. A fed bear is a dead bear, so you store your trash safely, you don't keep bird feeders, and you know the sound of dogs baying as they slowly harry some tired, irritated bear across the mountain.

Bears that panhandle or like to dumpster dive get picked up by wildlife rangers and relocated to the more inaccessible areas of the mountains. One of these rangers wrote a hilarious memoir: Bear in the Back Seat.
posted by workerant at 11:58 AM on March 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

I forgot my favorite bear-related story! I was chatting with a ranger a while back and somehow the subject of bear-proof public trash cans came up. He told me that tourists often had trouble getting them open. He said, "The overlap between the dumbest people and the smartest bears is larger than I expected."
posted by workerant at 12:19 PM on March 6, 2018 [11 favorites]

My dad's place borders the George Washington National Forest in Virginia, so he often gets bear visitors, especially since his neighbor keeps an apple orchard. As long as they behave themselves, he's happy to see them, but as backup he keeps a shotgun loaded with in sequence, a couple of rubber non-lethal rounds, buckshot, and finally slugs. He did have to kill one regular that repeatedly tried to break into the house while Dad was present and was clearly human-habituated and thus dangerous. Unfortunately, there are people around that like to feed bears so that they can shoot them later in season (my dad is also a hunter, and can get very vivid on the the subject of asshole hunters), which of course is extremely dangerous to everyone.
posted by tavella at 12:21 PM on March 6, 2018

Over in the political threads they talk about 'National Treasures' – McPhee surely is one if anybody qualifies. The sentence tucked inside the piece that got me was "There are more muzzleloaders in the United States today than there were people in Colonial America in 1775."

Bears only rarely come onto our island, but a woman in a 2007 TripAdvisor forum nicely sums up what happened some years back when one did wander into town: " was quite a sight the year the bear wandered into the village of Bar Harbor one very early morning. It strolled down Cottage Street and then got spooked by a dog or human. It ran for the nearest wooded area and climbed the highest tree behind the town offices.

Word quickly went around town that there was a bear in a tree. By the time I heard about it, there was a crowd of about fifty people. The local newspaper photographer was on the ground on his back getting a good picture up the tree. I'm pretty sure it was November, post tourist season, because I remember saying we could have charged admission if only there was a cruise ship in harbor. An Acadia Park Ranger was consulted. The expert advice was to simply leave the bear alone and it would leave town on its own once the excitement died down. And that's what happened late that night."
posted by LeLiLo at 1:46 PM on March 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

My parents are in Franklin, Sussex Co. NJ. Every time I visit we see a bear. They,ve got their own one that lives in their development. (and yes, they love to eat dirty diapers ew)
posted by supermedusa at 2:33 PM on March 6, 2018

My first close encounter. Crap. Can't link properly
posted by Mr. Yuck at 2:35 AM on March 7, 2018

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