MAHWAH, N.J. (AP) — Authorities are investigating whether illegal feeding is responsible for recent reports of aggressive bears in northern New Jersey that have led officials to euthanize four of the animals and restrict hikers as fall foliage season gets underway.
The state closed Ramapo Valley Reservation in Mahwah on Wednesday, where a bear reportedly chased a group of eight people during the weekend.
The shutdown came as the nearby 4,200-acre Ramapo State Forest remained closed for a second week at a time when leaves are changing colors and more people trek into the woods to view them.
The Department of Environmental Protection has placed traps in the woods and killed four bears since Oct. 5. None of the bears showed signs of fear of humans, possibly because of illegal feeding, Division of Fish and Wildlife Director David Chanda said in a statement.
State wildlife experts said there is no shortage of food, particularly acorns, as black bears prepare to hibernate.
"It is extremely uncommon for bears to demonstrate so little fear of humans," Chanda said. "The Division of Fish and Wildlife is launching an investigation into why these bears are behaving in this fashion, focusing on whether intentional feeding by people on the trail or on private properties near the park is making these bears bolder, even to the point of pursuing people."
On Sept. 19, a 21-year-old woman and a 7-year-old boy reported being followed and chased by a bear in the forest. A man also reported a bear would not back down and paced in front of him and his dog the same day.
Two more encounters occurred on Oct. 3 when three female hikers reported they escaped unharmed after being pursued by a bear and a male hiker said a bear swatted at him and pursued him before backing off.