Are More Bears Coming to Campus Now Than Ever Before? Probably Not.

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Joseph Santos , Contributing Writer

Considering all the stress college students go through doing homework, writing papers and struggling to maintain a social life, the last thing any of them need is a 400-pound animal interested in them.

The animal in question on the William Paterson campus is the American black bear. It doesn’t usually attack people, but it will defend itself when necessary, so they must be given plenty of space and respect.

It’s only October, but the university has already sent out two alerts regarding the presence of bears on campus. In one instance, there were cubs. Mother bears are very protective of their young. This is likely to make some students feel intimidated.  But are the bears really any more active this semester than ever before?

Here’s what the science says.

Bears are most active during the early morning and late evening of the day. They are especially active during the spring and summer seasons because that’s when they mate and cubs are raised. But it’s already autumn, so it’s not the mating season that’s bringing the bears to campus.

It’s true that bears need to gather food and eat to prepare for hibernation. However, American black bears aren’t true hibernators. This means that although they do sleep for longer periods during the winter, they still do awaken sometimes and are occasionally active. They’re active when they’re disturbed or when a day is warmer than usual.

In mid-to-late September this year, there were days where the weather seemed to fluctuate unpredictably and days when the weather was or felt like it was, higher than 70 degrees.

The trash on campus is one likely explanation for the bears’ recent trips to campus. Bears have a sense of smell that is 2,100 times better than that of humans. So if the William Paterson campus has trash hanging around within a range of a bear’s nose, the chances are good that it smells the trash. Given the university’s mountain location – and proximity to many hiking trails – the black bears in the area can smell food on campus from a far distance.

It’s likely that many of the university’s furry visitors are coming in search of what we’re throwing away. What one man considers finished or inedible could be one bear’s next dinner.

The start of the semester means a lot of students in the dining hall, which means a lot of finished meals and trash. A sudden surge of trash may be what is bringing many bears to campus, if there has, in fact, been a dramatic increase in the number of bears on campus. Students should pick up their trash and dispose of it properly.

If you spot a bear on campus, call campus police at 973-720-2300. Click here for more information about bears and instructions to follow if you encounter a bear.