TOMS RIVER, NJ – Across central and south Jersey, black bear sightings have increased in the past week. Sightings have been reported by police in Toms River, Lakewood, Howell, Monroe, Little Egg Harbor, and other towns across the area.
Some agencies believe the sightings could be one bear, but others suspect they are multiple bears that are now seeking a new home after being displaced.
Police in Monroe Township suspect a bear in their community this week was displaced from the recent fires in the Pinelands. Tens of thousands of acres burned over the course of the past two weeks, leaving once peaceful and secluded homes of these bears devastated and uninhabitable.
Those bears, others claim are now on the move looking for a new place to call home and while some wander unseen through the Pine Barrens, a few have strayed beyond, entering communities at the edge of the Pinelands seeking refuge from their own natural disasters.
In essence, these bears are refugees looking for a new place to live.
Others believe the recent sightings are part of an overall trend statewide in New Jersey. In 2022, there have been 169 bear sightings so far. By this time last year, there were just 86, according to the New Jersey DEP.
In 2021, Governor Phil Murphy ended the annual black bear hunt, which is also contributing to a larger bear population in the state.
Bears being displaced by fire is nothing new. In 2020, a bear spotted in Gloucester County was displaced by a nearby forest fire. He wandered through about 10 towns before finding a new home.