On tap: Bill to mandate bear-resistant food containers, trash bins

TRENTON – A bill that would help prohibit feeding of black bears will be before a committee this week.

S2369 would build off 2010 recommendations of the Fish and Game Council to minimize interaction between humans and bears.

And Angi Metler sees firsthand the need for such a law. “I live in bear country. I live in the heart of bear country,’’ said Metler, a resident of the Highland Lakes section of Vernon in Sussex County, which saw more bears killed in last year’s six-day bear hunt than any other N.J. county.

She is executive director of the Animal Protection League of New Jersey, which worked on the bill development.

“The current bill, passed over a decade ago, has some big loopholes,’’ Metler said, such as an exception for deer bait.

“Stopping baiting will go a long way to keeping bears out of neighborhoods.’’

She believes the bill should draw municipal support because fines would go to the towns.

A 2002 law already bars deliberate acts to feed or attract bears. This bill, sponsored by Sen. Ray Lesniak, (D-20), Elizabeth, and others, would require the use of bear-resistant containers or trash bins.

The proposal that will be in front of the Senate Economic Growth Committee would also eliminate that exception in the law for placement of bait for deer in towns that are in black bear habitat.

In addition, this bill would require public and private campgrounds and state camping facilities in bear habitat to provide bear-resistant Dumpsters and food boxes.

According to the Department of Environmental Protection, the state’s bear population has been growing since the 1980s and there have been confirmed sightings in all 21 counties.

Bears are attracted by garbage odors, and proper securing of food waste has been a major concern for years.

Among the other problems generated by deer bait are deforestation due to clustering of bears, increased fertility, spread of invasive species and increased disease, according to Metler.

There is a six-day bear hunting season scheduled in December. Last year’s hunt yielded 287 bears, the state reported, with Sussex County the runaway winner with 189. Warren, Morris and Passaic counties also held hunts.

One national group that supports the bill is the non-profit, Sacramento-based, Born Free USA, which advocates for causes such as preserving wildlife in natural habitat and preventing suffering of animals in captivity.

Adam Roberts, the executive vice president of Born Free USA, said that the problem sometimes is not that the bear population necessarily is growing, but that humans increasingly encroach on their territory as more land is blacktopped and more houses are built.

Anything that can minimize increased interaction in residential areas is a good thing, he said.

“There are humane solutions, whether it’s deer, raccoon or bear,’’ he said. “These encounters are on the rise because we’re either being irresponsible in the ways we close off garbage cans or we’re encroaching on their habitat.’’

Metler said that the bill could go a long toward helping to minimize bear-human interaction.

On tap: Bill to mandate bear-resistant food containers, trash bins