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Official: Bear Attacks NJ Boy Scout Leader, 3 Scouts Left Unharmed

ROCKAWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) --  A Boy Scout leader was injured during an encounter with a bear in northern New Jersey, but three Scouts with him were unharmed, officials said.

Rockaway Township Mayor Michael Dachisen saidthe attack occurred around noon Sunday at Split Rock Reservoir in the Morris County community.

Scout leader Christopher Petronino, 50, of Boonton, was attacked by a black bear after entering a cave, 1010 WINS reported. Petronino told the Department of Environmental Protection that he wanted to show the scouts the cave, which he had known about since the 1980s. According to the DEP, Petronino had never encountered a bear there before.

After entering the cave, a black bear grabbed Petronino's foot and bit him on the leg, his right shoulder and his arm, officials said. According to officials, Petronino hit the bear twice with a rock hammer before assuming a fetal position and calling to the scouts for help.

The scouts then called 911, prompting a large-scale search by environmental officials for the exact location of the cave, officials said.

After several hours of searching, the injured Boy Scout leader, bleeding from his head, neck and arm, was finally taken out on a stretcher and put into a medivac helicopter.

Petronino was flown to the emergency room a Morristown Medical Center for treatment of what were called non life-threatening injuries, CBS2's Brian Conybeare reported. He has since been released.

The three Scouts were rescued by searchers.

It's not clear what prompted the attack, which is under investigation by the state's Environmental Protection Department, WCBS 880's Stephanie Colombini reported. The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife said in a statement that the bear may have been trying to hibernate in the cave.

According to the Division of Fish and Wildlife, the cave has been empty since the incident occurred, and that non-lethal traps have been set up around the location in hopes of observing the bear.

Dave Oakes owns a nearby horse farm and grew up combing the same woods. While he sees bears all the time, he's never seen one be aggressive toward humans.

"They don't bother us we don't bother them," Oakes said.

But with black bears now found in every county in New Jersey, Oakes questioned why anyone, especially a scout leader, would go into a cave this time of year.

"If you see a cave and you should think twice maybe before going in there," Oakes said. "You realize that they could be a bear in there and the last thing you want to do is poke your nose into a cave where there's a bear trying to hibernate."

The attack comes less than 24 hours after the end of New Jersey's annual state-mandated bear hunt, which was extended an additional four days this year.

According to wildlife officials, more than 500 bears were killed during this year's hunt, with 472 bears killed before the extension was implemented. The goal was 800.

The area of the hunt was expanded this year to include areas of Bloomingdale and Wayne, as well as all of Butler and Pequannock. It was permitted this year in all or portions of Hunterdon, Passaic, Morris, Somerset, Sussex, and Warren counties, and portions of Bergen and Mercer counties.

The Fish and Wildlife Division's website showed that more than half of the bears were shot in Sussex County, where hunters harvested 312 bruins. Another 94 were killed in Warren County, while 58 were killed in Morris County and 35 in Passaic County.

In October, the New Jersey Department of Fish and Wildlife briefly shut down Ramapo Mountain State Forest after eight people were chased by a black bear while hiking in the woods.

Three other hikers reported being pursued by black bears, but escaped unharmed. One hiker said a bear repeatedly approached and swatted at him, forcing him to use pepper spray to defend himself.

Officials believe that increased human interactions with the bears are linked to the recent bouts of aggression from the animals.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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