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Black bear activity on the rise

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Fred Frenzel, district wildlife biologist for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, sets a bear trap west of Front Royal in 2008. Residents are again complaining of bear troubles. Rich Cooley/Daily file






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A black bear is shown in area woods in 2008. Warren County residents have complained of an increase of black bears rummaging through trash cans in recent months. Officials say black bears frequent Front Royal and the surrounding county because of the proximity of Shenandoah National Park. Rich Cooley/Daily file


By Kaitlin Mayhew -- kmayhew@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Black bears have been rummaging through trash bins and garbage cans in some new areas of Warren County this year.

Michael Dawson, who lives on Commonwealth Drive, said that he's always seen bears in the area, but this year has been the worst of all.

"I have a 400-pound bear that has twice been into my garage, and we have come face-to-face with it twice in the last two weeks," he said.

Dawson said that one morning he put his garbage can out for pickup at 4:30 a.m. and that by 4:45 a.m. the bear was in his driveway.

"It makes you scared to be outside of your house after dark or let your kids or the dog go outside," he said. "If a human was entering my house or property I would have the right to use deadly force I felt threatened, but if I shoot a bear I will prosecuted for poaching and using a firearm within city limits."

Similar concerns were voiced during a public hearing at a Sept. 12 Town Council meeting by residents Patricia Kaesir and John Fusto, who both live on Happy Ridge Drive.

Kaesir and that she has had several problems with a bear at her house and has had no luck deterring it. She said she tried bright lights and loud noises, and nothing seemed to work.

"I tried keeping my garbage in my garage [as advised by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries] and have since had problems with mice and maggots," she said.

Kaesir said that when she called she was told she could do nothing to harm the bear, not even throw anything at it.

"I feel the laws protect the bear and not me as a person," she said. "I am now afraid to take my dog out at any time of the day or night."

Fusto said he thinks the problem has gotten worse since he first moved to the area, which was seven years ago.

"I think there's a huge bear problem in this town," he said. "And when you call for assistance they tell you 'Don't hurt the bear, they were here first.'"

At the meeting Mayor Timothy Darr responded, saying, "We are very concerned about this and we are definitely looking at this and looking at it very seriously."

Town Manager Steve Burke said is aware that bears have been seen more frequently in the area. He said the town is exploring several options such as a heavy-duty trash cans, and speaking with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to consider if some sort of removal program can be re-adopted.

"You shouldn't do anything to provoke the bear more so for your safety," he said.
Front Royal Public Works administrative assistant Lynn Mitchell said she has been getting more calls from residents interested in having their trash cans bear-proofed, which consists of the bin being outfitted with heavy-duty chains.

Mitchell said as far as she has heard from callers, the bear-proofing is working.

"I only remember one call saying it didn't work," she said. "We're definitely not going to stop them, we're just going to deter them."

Jaime Sajecki, bear project leader at the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said that the bear population is not necessarily growing to an unnatural number, but returning to its former state.

She said the entire state was the native range for black bears, but that in the late 1800s unregulated hunting and loss of habitat due to cutting down forests for agricultural purposes left the animals almost completely gone by the early 1900s.

Since the development of hunting seasons that start later in the year, to prevent the shooting of pregnant bears, and some re-growth of agricultural land, the bear population is now growing at a rate of about 9 percent to 10 percent a year.

The state's bear management plan, which started in 2001, dictates what should be done about bear populations in each area.

"All were either increased or stabilized," said Sajecki.

However, she said the agency is working on a new plan in which she thinks the goal for certain areas may change to decreasing the population. The area involved in the plan would include Frederick, Shenandoah, Rockingham and Warren counties.

According to Sajecki, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has no plans to restart a bear relocation plan.

"Most people want bears taken away because they got into their bird feeder. The problem is what is attracting the bear to the area," she said. "That's not the only bear in that area. We can't just keep picking up bears and moving them around."

She also said the relocation program was used to move bears to areas where they were trying to increase populations.

"Moving bears doesn't really solve any problems. There are certain things that people can do to prevent bears from being a problem," she said. "They don't want to be around people, they just love what we put out."

Sajecki said that most people who are afraid of bears simply don't know much about them.

"Bears have the capability of being dangerous and causing a lot of damage, but they rarely ever do," she said. "They are not aggressive, they are very easy to scare off. In my personal opinion they are very lazy. They will find the easiest thing they can eat, and they will just sit there and eat it until it's gone or you take it away."

She also pointed out that no one has been killed or attacked by a bear in Virginia, other than in a couple of hunting incidents.

Fred Frenzel, district wildlife biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, is responsible for taking phone calls for five counties, including Warren.

He said he gets a lot of calls from the Front Royal area, primarily because Shenandoah National Park is so close.

"I don't think I've necessarily been getting more calls this year, but I've been getting calls from different areas," he said.

Frenzel said he used to get a lot of calls from the Royal Arms Apartments and he knows that recently they got new trash bins that can be better secured.

"It may be that some of these bears are looking elsewhere [for food]," he said. "They had gotten habituated to going there and getting a free meal and they may be starting to look in some of the neighboring areas."




25 Comments



Don't move to the country if you can't deal with the wildlife. If you want birdfeeders and no bears, stay in Fairfax County. The bears won't hurt you, but you obviously don't get that. Move back to the DC suburbs.

Please consider diversionary feeding as a method to deter the black bears from entering human habit areas. A 2010 publication by a nationally recognized bear scientist, Dr. Lynn Rogers "Does diversionary feeding create nuisance bears and jeopardize public safety? Pages 72-82 in C. Lackey and T. A. Beausoleil, editors, Western Black Bear Workshop 10:72-82" is free and available on the internet.

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I don't live in the country but in town. When I first moved here 11 years ago, we had no problem with the bears. For the last 5 years we have seen them more and more, with this year being the worse. Almost every night you can see a bear walking down the street. My daughter comes home late at night and I scare for her getting out of car in the driveway. Noise doesn't seem to work with the bear. I saw him stand up put his very large paw on top of the car. And bears aren't the only problem, I don't have any plants because the herd of deer keep them mowed down.

Don't move to the Country if you can't handle the Wildlife? Wow! Really? The bears won't hurt you Really? Move back to DC? Really? WOW thanks for the helpful advice! Last I heard the Town of Front Royal is not considered living in the country. Like it or not there has been a rise in the bear population and it is becomming a problem for the residents of the town. Let's not turn this into another "Born here" verses "come here" argument. Continue to put pressure on the Town Government until they come up with realistic measures to keep the bears and deer away from Town Residential areas. And I can not stress this enough! Living in Front Royal is not living in the country!!

I live in downtown Strasburg and would welcome a few bears. You know, they are cleaner than the people coming from 7-11 throwing all their trash in my hedge, no the street and in the town run. One good thing I can say about bears. They don't bring their trash with them.

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I live in the county where the bears pass through my property every day and night. They are like large squirrels to be quite honest, and if you know how a squirrel is, he looks for food, and soon as he is seen, he is quick to scamper off. These bears are most likely being encouraged...being fed by other people, because of the enjoyment of seeing bears in their yards. They were here way before us, and they have their place here. They will come, as long as they know there is food available for the taking...just like a squirrel. They do not sit and wait outside your window ready to jump on you and attack you. I've been around them too much now, and they aren't vicious or mean-spirited. Just don't provoke a wild animal, and become more educated on the animal's behavior, and help us hold the people accountable who are feeding them, either willfully or incidentally. I take in my bird feeders every night, and I do not leave garbage outside, period. Hope this helps for what it is worth.

i think who ever wrote this story understands bears listen i live in rural rapp. co. 1/4 mile from the park boundry it has been the slowest year for me and bears i keep my trash locked up but everybody around you has to do the same or it does not work. and as for frontroyal not being country compared to what pg co. i would rather have 25 bears sleeping on my deck than i would have 1 pit bull 1 ms13 or just general human low life sorry i have to agree if you dont like whats in your yard head back to the big town

I have been fighting this battle with Front Royal for 5 years. The chains they put on our trash cans last spring are a joke - at least the bear in our neighborhood thinks so. She pops them open with NO problem! I was also told the bears won't hurt you. However, the more interaction bears have with humans, the more likely someone will get hurt. And bears get hit by cars in Front Royal all the time. You can't scare them off; you can't shoot them; you can't feed them. They are starving in the National Forest. Eventually, this is going to end badly; then they will say "We didn't think black bears were aggressive." Any wild animal is aggressive in the right circumstances. We are held captive in our house after dark each night, and my grandchildren who live with me are terrified. The bears are often terrified, as well, which is not a good thing. Fred Frenzel has been trying to get FR to pay for REAL bear-proof trash cans for several years; and their answer is chains that do no good. They won't even let me buy one - they told me they wouldn't pick up my trash if I don't use the town's trash cans.

What the heck...I live in the country, on a rural route, Bears are Bears, and they are going to do what is easiest, I had a small Chicken house and last year, a very large Bear, ripped the egg hatch off and had a buffet, eggs, chickens...what a mess, it happens, I have numerous bears on the game camera, 100-150 yds from my front door, I try to be smart and keep trash not layin' outside, don't throw food in the yard etc., I did purchase a couple packs of fireworks and have lite them off, and yelled to the top of my lungs , so they associate people with that noise...It does seem to work very very well! Try it...come up with a plan , and don't ask the local/federal government to do something until you have no choices...complaining is whining without a solution

lol ya'll crazy...just because its a town dont mean it aint country..how long u been around front royal? ask ppl in the city and guess what u gotta say the country and they know what your talking about then.theres a reason ppl live in that area more land and animals less people less traffic less roads etc... theres always something ppl dont like about everything. but they do need to try a little harder tho.I grew up where 66 was literally are backyard off guard hill and guess what bears u leave them alone and most likely they will leave u alone..so im with michelle front royal is country u cant build a town in the middle of country and not expect animals to come around sometimes.

The rare visits by bears don't bother me. If they could read I would put out a welcome mat for them. My wife got a great picture of one in the backyard early one Sunday morning (broad daylight) several years ago.
My property is safe haven for the deer as well.
I don't like the apples from my apple tree anyway.

If a bear has been in your garage twice, you might want to think about closing the door.
I live within a mile of the entrance to the Skyline Drive and rarely see bears. I haven't asked the town to put chains on my trash tote and I try not to do anything to encourage bear visits. If it happens, it happens. I won't be calling the Front Royal Police Dept. about the issue. Asking government agencies to solve my problems means giving up personal rights I'm not about to surrender. On the two occasions when I've had a bear in my yard they have taken off when I opened my door and made a little noise.

Do you think I really want to eat your trash? Okay, it's not a fair question -- your trash is delicious, and I really do want to eat it. The point is, you're in MY back yard, not the other way around. My family was here a long time before yours, and you keep throwing out this stuff that's delicious and easy to get to, so what do you want me to do? Forage? Forget about that. If you have the choice between the McDonald's drive-thru and going out in your yard to forage, what are you going to do? And don't lie -- I've seen you outside in those sweatpants, and they aren't fooling anyone. There's junk in that trunk. And in that garbage can. And I'm gonna eat it. (The stuff in the garbage can, not ... you know what I'm saying.)

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I'm with Robert and 4ur411. This is not a city/county/government resources priority, especially not in these economic times. Yes, for the love of Mother Nature, and for the love of the beauty of Front Royal and the Shenandoah Valley, live in the spirit that our forefathers did when they lived here. They lived with the wildlife. We must live with the wildlife, too. When did we all become black bear experts anyways? People say they are starving and have to come to town because of no food in the mountains/woods? I like what Robert said about that, bears are bears. They go where they want to go, whatever is easiest or most convienient. Last time I checked this blog, it's a big discussion about bears getting into city neighborhoods and going through garbage cans. Out in the county, we do NOT have garbage cans or garbage service. We have to secure our own garbage in our homes and we have to transport our own garbage to the dump. I had never had to do that before until I moved here to Warren County out in Browntown, and I have to tell you, I wouldn't trade it for the world. I love saving a few bucks for myself, and I love the drive to our local waste transfer station and dumping off my trash, and disposing of my recycled goods. I get to meet my neighbors, see what trash is getting thrown away, feel more responsible for managing my own waste somewhat, recycling more than I ever did before, and getting my kids involved in that as well, and realizing how good we have it here in this nation compared to a few third-world countries I have been to where there is no such thing as a waste disposal system for the public or commerce. Get off your computers and waiting for the city or government to take care of your garbage and the bears. Next thing you know, it will be complaints about the squirrels, the deer, the raccoon, the opossom, the dog, the cat, the crows, the blue jays, etc. etc, and on and on. I don't have enough money for myself now, and I don't want to give the government anymore of it right now, especially for low-level priorities such as that. We need to the money to pay our teachers, our police force, fire fighters, fire fighting equipment, and we need to hold the irresponsible people accountable for encouraging attractive nuisances in our community, including willfully and simple negligence of bear attraction into neighborhoods. Keep the trash secured in shed, if not in your home, but I keep my garbage in my house, and we are fine with it. Robert and 4ur411 were right on, and so was Kristin and Caveman too. I love my bears, and I don't want anything to happen to them. Sorry, but I can't help but feel strongly about this. Let's quit bugging the city and county on this stuff, and take up our own responsiblity for some matters (legally and ethically of course), and let us let the government work on more important matters that need to be addressed, and not having these kinds of distractions and rabbit chases. I love Warren County folks, and I want to be here for a long time, and raise my family, and see grandkids here. I don't want them seeing Arlington, Manhattan, Fairfax, Annapolis, Detroit, or any other city like that show up out here. No way! This side of the mountain is not going to be another Box City USA with a thousand rules to live by and another HOA Nazi Police Squad out there every day in a golf cart running up and down the street telling me it is time to paint my porch or remove the unsightly vegetable garden from their view. We already are seeing a lot of that in some of our surrounding communities, and it is all good and all, but it seems to get a bit extreme, and the people that take up those positions don't have anything else better to do but make all their neighbors hate them. Sorry, I am rambling and getting madder and madder about this. Sorry, I will shut up now. Out!

Actually, I don't think there are any reports of black bears hurting folks. But I wouldn't try to pet them.... I don't see it as a "from here" "move here" thing - but those of us who are from here and are accustomed to bears know how live with them. That being said, I understand wanting to keep them out of town. Perhaps if we stop building in their habitats they won't move into town, but then again I guess that's a statement against the "move here" folks, huh? :-)

Well, to me, this IS the Country! I came from the Desert SW, where when you came home at night, you had to be sure to be on the lookout for Javelinas (wild pigs with extremely razor sharp spines and teeth), coyotes, and oh yes, don't step on a rattlesnake. They like to come out in the evenings....especially to hide in your driveway...

Sorry folks, I'll trade the occasional bear anytime for a lifetime of having to be on the look out for the creatures from my home state!

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Tim,

I respectfully disagree that we should put a great deal of pressure on the town government to come up with new measures to keep the bears from town bedroom communities. What ideas do you recommend the town of Front Royal do, that they haven't already thought of or tried over the past decades? Are you suggesting we put more taxpayer resources into this, when there are more obvious issues the residents of Front Royal should be pressuring town officials on? I think this is getting way too much press and attention, and a distraction from other more important issues. And, no, I am not saying that wild black bear walking around in neighborhoods should become the norm, and be allowed to sift through people's garbage with freewill. So, don't get me wrong about that. However, what can the town of Front Royal really significantly do that is PURE (practical, user-friendly, responsible, and economical), and in best interest of the town as a whole?

We live in one of the most beautiful areas of our country. We are surrounded by mountains, woods, valleys and enjoy the added bonus of being in such close proximity to Shenandoah National Park where wildlife can live in safety without being harmed or harassed. Thousands of people from all over the world come to our area every year to admire our scenery and our wildlife. The bears, among other forms of wildlife, to my knowledge, have yet to learn to read, so they don't know where they should or should not wander. They're long time residents of this area and no doubt consider all of it their home, also. When asked by people from other areas where we live and I say the Shenandoah Valley, the response is always "do you see lots of wildlife"? and "that's wonderful, you are so lucky"! Yes, we are. I fully understand the uneasiness regarding a big, wild creature on "our property", but neither my family or my neighbors have any desire to kill or harm anything. Obviously, there must be common sense on our part to protect our loved ones and our pets. Considering we live surrounded by many forms of wildlife, it must be our responsibility to take sensible precautions. Since we are fully aware that wildlife exist around us, they may very well "visit", with or without an invitation. Again, common sense and awareness is a must. It's the nature of our area. This is where we live and where they live. What else should we do? Kill them all so we aren't bothered? We want the forests, river and mountains, but no wildlife? How sad would it be without them. How selfish of we humans to think we are the only ones who matter.

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Shep, that is well said. Totally in agreement with your views/thoughts. Thank you.

I too think everything regarding this issue that Shep has written about has been put so very eloquently. I agree 100% with everything he has said so well. Thank you, Shep!

I would also STRONGLY urge people to not provide food for bears in the form of bird feeders, poorly secured trash, pet food left outside, etc. Our home, surrounded by National Forest, is right where there is bear activity but I have to tell you that by taking steps to absolutely not provide any food source, it has really cut down drastically on bear sightings by our house and yard. In fact, I would have to say that since we made a conscious effort to do the above recommendations, in the last 12 years of living here we have not seen a bear on our property other than the occasional bear crossing the road down from our property. It would also help to urge your neighbors to follow the same precautions. It goes without saying that being cautious and using common sense goes a long way to keeping people safe.

Maybe Frenzel should do more that ride in the Forest Service vehicles and handle the problem. State Biologist are a joke anymore. Set some tank traps and catch the bears!!!

Neil, Thank you for this oppotunity to have a dialogue with you on this. Let me first point out that the black bear problem is not a decades old problem. It has only been in the last 4-5 years that Front Royal has seen this kind of increase of Black Bear Traffic incroaching on urban areas. 4-5 years after some of these housing developments have gone in such as the one off of Happy Creek Road.

I am not saying that we need to put a great deal of pressure on the Town Council about this. But we do need to keep this issue in the forefront. In Pennsylvania a bear was able to get into a home and harm two people. Grant it it is a rare occasion in a rural area that this happens but the simple fact is that it has happened in another community should serve as a warning to the Front Royal Community that it could happen here.

And yes Neil, the Front Royal Police Department is responsible for keeping the citizens of Front Royal Safe. If the Front Royal Police Department cannot do that due to lack of resources then yes they do need to go the council and alert the council of the lack of resource and then the councle needs to look into it and try to find a means to provide the necessary resources for the Front Royal Police so they can do their jobs.

Now does this means using tax dollars? Not necessarily. Perhaps the solution is already available and no one has thought of it. What the Town of Front Royal needs to do is look to it's own community first and see if any citizen of Front Royal or Warren County is experienced with handling Bears approaching and entering into urban areas. The Resource could be right in our own neighborhood and we not even know it. Go out and find and get help from the community if possible. If not then we need to contact the necessary state and federal agencies for assistance. It might not even cost the tax payers anything. And it might cost us something.

But let's weigh the pros and cons. If we do nothing and let the bears have free reign in our communities then we run the risk of something happening like it did in Pennsylvania. By working together first and looking within our own community we might find the solution. Let's try that first. If not then look at the other options available to us through the state and federal agencies. But for once let's not go running to the tax payers and start demanding tax dollars from our already over taxed citizens to fix the problems. Going into the cofffers of Tax Dollars should be the last resort not the first.

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Tim,

Thank you for clarifying your position on "pressuring the town officials" and "use of pubic resources, i.e. taxes". There will only be a bear attack if someone encourages it, or unless the bear becomes injured and feels threatened for some reason. I can see alot of people becoming fascinated with the bears and not respecting bears, or keeping safe distance from bears. If a bear breaks into a home, that indeed is a rare occasion from what I've read about.

An idea that came to my mind, and it may not be worthwhile, but if you are looking for ideas, perhaps the town could produce a simple flyer or door hanger that can be left on affected neighborhood homes' doors, and it provides general, basic bear loitering tips. Awareness/education (minimal cost) goes a long way. Perhaps use of strategic lawn/yard signage in certain traffic/intersection zones may help increase awareness, too. Another thing is local parks.....what if the bears are crossing through neighborhoods to get to the little local parks that surround the community? Are there garbage cans at these places that are full of garbage and attracting hungry furry critters? Waste receptacles have to be cleaned frequently for sanitation and hygiene purposes, as well as limited wildlife activity prevention. Just saying....

I like your idea! Do you live in Front Royal? If you do would propose it to the Council? If you don't live in Front Royal I would like to propose it to the Council. Reaching out to the community with Flyers and door hangers and signage would go a long way to let the citizens know that the Leadership of the town is aware and working to find solutions. I thank you again for this chance to discuss this important matter.

It would be nice if the Mayor or Council would call for volunteers to go into the neighborhood to hand out the flyers and door hangers. I would willing to give up a few hours of my time to volunteer for such an event.

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Hi Tim, no, I live in Browntown, so you are more than welcome to propose the idea(s) you think serves the town best. Heck, depending on when you did hang signs, flyers, door hangers, etc., I would volunteer if it doesn't interfere with my business at the time, and I don't have any prior commitments.



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