Two young campers attacked by black bear in New Jersey

NEW YORK Wed Aug 3, 2011 5:30pm EDT

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two young campers were attacked by a yearling black bear that entered their tent in New Jersey on Wednesday in the nation's latest bear mauling this summer, state officials said.

The predawn attack occurred in Stokes State Forest in the lake-filled northwestern part of the state at a campsite being used by the Trail Blazers Camp of Montague, New Jersey, said Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

An 11-year-old boy from Brooklyn, New York, and a 12-year-old from Jersey City, New Jersey, escaped death or serious injury, which has marked other attacks in Arizona and Alaska as well as in Yellowstone National Park.

"Our best assumption is that the bear smelled food and went into the tent following the scent and encountered people and was a bit more aggressive than you would normally expect," Ragonese said.

"More and more, bears are looking for food and they'll break through sliding doors or windows," he said.

The boys, whose names were not released, were treated for minor injuries at a local hospital. By afternoon, they rejoined the seven other youngsters at the campsite, said Riel Peerbooms, executive director of Trail Blazers Camp.

Last month, a woman was killed in Arizona by a male black bear digging through a dumpster at a country club, and at Yellowstone National Park a hiker was killed by an adult female grizzly bear with two cubs.

The same month, seven teens were attacked by a grizzly bear in Alaska, though none were killed.

Wednesday's run-in with a black bear in New Jersey was the state's first reported bear attack since a man sustained minor scrapes last summer when he was attacked while walking his dog in West Milford.

"They're fortunate," Ragonese said of the campers, "but we're not talking about grizzly bears here. So normally we don't have aggressive situations with black bears."

Peerbooms said campers and counselors are routinely trained to react to bear encounters, which may have saved the boys from serious injury.

"They were trained to move away and to make a lot of noise," he said. "During the incident, a counselor blew a whistle and the campers broke in song and clapped. The bear took off."

The young bear fled from the campsite but then returned to rummage for food, at which point it was shot in the neck by a state conservation official.

The injured bear fled into adjacent woods and was being tracked by conservation officers. Snares and traps were set up, and sections of the Appalachian Trail and intersecting hiking trails that run through Stokes State Forest were closed until further notice.

"We were told that wounded black bears tend to be far less aggressive," Ragonese said. "They tend to look for a place to hide and kind of lick their wounds."

New Jersey environmental officials said black bears have been sighted in all of the state's 21 counties.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Johnston)

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