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Bears suspected in livestock deaths

Game officials recommend fencing in animals, removing food sources, making loud noises

Fred Frenzel sets a bear trap
Fred Frenzel, district biologist for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, sets a bear trap in a field off Strasburg Road, west of Front Royal, on Tuesday. Rickie and Susan Williams suspect bears have killed three of their dairy calves. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Ben Orcutt -- borcutt@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Rickie and Susan Williams would like to live in harmony with black bears on the 22 acres they own off Strasburg Road a few miles west of Front Royal, but it's becoming increasingly difficult.

The Williamses suspect that the bears have killed three of their dairy calves.

"I want to be able to send my dogs out," Mrs. Williams said Tuesday. "I want to be able to send my kids out at night. I just want 'em to go away. I'm scared to death they're gonna get my dogs, my horses. I'm pretty sure they're gonna get the other calf. What they do apparently is they break it's neck. One was clawed up pretty well."

Mrs. Williams got in touch with Fred Frenzel, a district biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Frenzel set up a bear trap a week ago and came out the to property on Tuesday to move it closer to the livestock.

"Once I got a hold of Fred, he has been a lifesaver," Mrs. Williams said. "He has just been amazing. We don't want to kill them. We want to make them leave."

Frenzel said a Game and Inland Fisheries conservation officer has issued the Williamses a permit to kill the bears since the bears are suspected of killing the calves.

"It happens from time to time," Frenzel said. "Bears will take young livestock occasionally. Often it's something else that lures the bear in to begin with. Either trash or maybe bird feeders around the house or the livestock feed itself. Often they'll come in after the feed and sometimes, that's all they'll do. But occasionally you'll get one that'll go ahead and take livestock too if it's a young animal, something that's easy to take. [The Williamses' calves] were just a few days old."

Frenzel recommends enclosing young livestock within an electric fence and preferably in a pen close to a house or barn where activity is occurring.

"A well-grounded electric fence will stop a bear," Frenzel said. "In this situation, [the calves were] down here at the edge of the woods. They were pretty far from activity and with the woods here, the bears have plenty of cover. They feel comfortable coming up here. Bears don't like to come out in the open if they don't have to. Bears are opportunistic."

If it's not hunting season or you don't have a kill permit, property owners can still shoot bears under special circumstances, Frenzel said.

"You can shoot a bear without a permit if you're defending yourself, other people, livestock or pets," he said. "If the bear is just out there walking through the field, you can't just run out there and shoot him because you think he might be gonna go for your livestock. But if the bear is actually chasing your livestock, if it's actually in the act of attacking your livestock, it's obvious to you that's what's going on, then you can shoot the bear and then the thing to do would be to contact law enforcement right away."

The key, Frenzel said, is to try to co-exist with bears.

"They're always gonna be around," he said. "The first step is to remove the food source that's attracting them or exclude them from it. The other step is to harass the bears. Make loud noises. Let 'em know that this is not a peaceful, happy place for them to be and they should move along."

The Williamses and their four children would like to live in peace with the bears, but the bears are becoming more aggressive.

"They're killing," Mrs. Williams said. "They're not just eating trash. It makes me very nervous. It's weird carrying a shotgun when I walk from the house to the shed. It feels like I'm at war. It's just a little bizarre."

For more information on black bears, visit the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Web site at www.dgif.virginia.gov.

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Did you ever think that maybe this wasn't bears but coyotes? I just never heard of black bears attacking livestock or pets unless they were threatened by them.

Ali K

I would have to agree with the first comment. More than likely a coyote.


Fred is a wonder! We had three different bear problems in our neighborhood in Front Royal last year. While black bears are normally not aggressive, the bears in the national forest are over-populated and starving, and they have been coming into the town of Front Royal more and more frequently. A starving animal is dangerous. A bear was in my front yard every night and, while fascinating to watch, it terrorized my family. Everyone was afraid to go out after dark. I spent almost an entire day on the phone before I got Fred's number. While he knows that black bears are usually shy and run away, he also knows they can be very dangerous. He set traps and caught and relocated two of the bears; the third has not reappeared. Thanks again, Fred!


i could not agree more i live 300yds from the park in july and august there is always bears in my yard mostly around 200 lbs i would look more @ rogue/wild dogs or coyote


Please do not kid yourself....about 5 years ago VA Game and Fisheries decided that relocating bears does not work. They kill the bears. It is a simple fact.

This year I have had up to 5 different bear in my yard in one day. I doubt these are bear taking down your cattle, I would say a coyote or even cougars. Yes, Virginia does have cougars..it also has bobcats. We have several bobcats on our mountain.

I'm saddened that these individuals have a permit to kill the bear when the bears, as the article states are only "SUSPECTED" in killing the cattle.

S Aley

For those who don't think bears eat livestock or forest animals including deer fawns, there is lots of information on the Internet available about bear predatory habits. The findings from a Pennsylvania study indicate that black bears eat just about as many fawns as coyotes do. The main cause of death among young fawns is predation, with coyotes and black bears taking the majority. Bobcats came in third, far behind the bears and coyotes.

In addition, records of bear attacks resulting in human deaths (which can be found on the Internet) indicate just as many deaths caused in North America by Black Bears as Grizzly Bears, probably because the Black Bears live in more populated areas and more commonly come into contact with humans. With over one-hundred years of records of bear attacks resulting in human deaths available, I found that 75 percent of them occurred in the last 15 years, probably because humans have moved more and more into the bear's territory.

In the last five years, we have seen black bear attacks on humans resulting in deaths fairly close to Virginia, in New York and Tennessee, for example. A little child was pulled from its stroller from a front porch in New York. The bear broke the child's neck.

Reports on a recent episode of Monsterquest (on the History Channel) reported New Jersey is having a lot of trouble with bears in suburban neighborhoods just a few miles from New York City. The bears hang out at school bus stops and in backyards, where children play.

It's sad and scary to hear about bear attacks, especially when it involves children, but I don't like to think about bears attacking pets and livestock, either. I love bears, but I don't want to see kids, pets, and livestock killed by them.

Most of the problems we have with bears are caused by humans, though. Bear hunters indicated at this year's Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Board Meetings, where the public can speak about changes to hunting regulations, that they have changed their approach to bear hunting by taking fewer bears than in the past. They indicated at the meetings that they want to grow the numbers of bears so they can see more bears in the woods. They have been successful in growing more bears, but I'm worried when I hear reports about how some of them might be doing this.

From talking to hunters who are out in the National Forest in the western part of Virginia, I've heard that some bear hunters do feed bears on their private land bordering the forest, although it is illegal. They do this to encourage the bears to hang around in an area and produce cubs. Fat bears produce more cubs. I heard a bear hunter at the board meeting explain that they think feeding is necessary, because the habitat is becoming more compromised, due to old-growth forests and failed mast crops of acorns. The intent is good, but the intent to raise more bears may be so successful that we now have too many for the forest to sustain. Thus, we're seeing them moving into populated areas and becoming more bold.

The allegation of people feeding bears needs to be investigated by the VDGIF to stop the practice. This year, more hunters need to take bears, to bring down the numbers so bears don't starve. When hunters report seeing more bears in a day of hunting than deer, there's too many bears.

Deer herds in the National Forest of western Virginia have fallen so low that restrictions have been put on hunting does, to help bring the number of deer back up. Restrictions in western Rockingham county include both public and private lands. I'm concerned that with the rising number of bears, fawn crops on the National Forest were all but decimated this year on public lands. Let's hope that ethical hunters, members of VDGIF, and citizens can all work together to preserve wildlife and protect animals and people from predators. I'd hate to see bears have to pay the price for something people did to them, but I sure don't want to see more articles like this one, where livestock is getting killed. I feel sorry, too, that people have to fear letting their children go outside to play. Bears should be taken very seriously when we start hearing they are resorting to attacking and killing livestock.

No human would have a chance if a 250-pound bear knocked them down and started chewing on them. One book I read indicated that carrying a gun or pepper spray is pretty useless, because the bear would have you down before you'd get the chance to use either of them. They are fast. Never run from them and don't try to climb a tree. Situations involving bear attacks indicate that more people who have tried to run or who tried to climb trees were killed than if they had just faced the bear and stood still.

Good luck with this problem. I'm thinking that VDGIF will want to take stock after this year's hunting season, to see if new hunting regulations allowing for more bear hunting have a positive effect.

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