Game officials recommend fencing in animals, removing food sources, making loud noises
By Ben Orcutt -- firstname.lastname@example.org
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.