By Alex Bridges -- email@example.com
Don't feed the bears, warn wildlife experts.
But not all Front Royal residents heed the warning or even know their actions attract bears into town.
"It's endemic of a urban environment in close proximity to a nature reserve such as the Shenandoah National Park," Town Manager Steven M. Burke said Thursday.
State wildlife experts and the town recommends residents remove any food sources from areas easily accessed by bears such as porches and patios. Residents who receive trash pickup from the town can ask the public works department to retrofit the garbage cans, Burke said.
Residents make sporadic bear sightings, but according to Burke the animals appear focused on certain neighborhoods in town that lie close to more rural areas. Bear sightings have been reported in the area of Ressie Jeffries Elementary School and around apartments on East Criser Road.
Burke noted apartment management, working with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, retrofitted the garbage containers, which appears to have helped keep bears away.
The town also recently helped residents in the Happy Creek area by retrofitting their trash cans as well as educating them about keeping bears away by taking away food sources, Burke said.
"We have had incidents where people arrive home and bears were rummaging through their garbage cans," Burke said. "Some people have kept them in areas that were close to their homes so that has resulting in some interaction between bears and residents and at that point we do encourage our citizens to contact our police department and we'll try and assist them to scare the bear off of the property."
Trapping and removing the bears has little effect on the overall problem, according to Fred Frenzel, of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, who spoke to Town Council about the issue Monday.
"But it's typical this time of year bears come out of their dens, they're hungry, there's not much food in the woods, they're active, so we always get a lot of calls," Frenzel said.
Just trapping bears and taking the animals away won't solve the problem, according to Frenzel. In fact, that approach would go against the state agency's policy and still offer little to no benefit to the town, Frenzel explained. He equated trapping and relocating bears with taking water from the Shenandoah River and dumping it into Happy Creek.
The town faces a similar problem with the bears, according to Frenzel.
"Basically you've got a never-ending supply with the Shenandoah National Park next door, and as long as there's an easy accessible food source in town, i.e. trash primarily, you're going to have bears visiting town," Frenzel said.
The Department of Public Works has worked to retrofit the residential trash containers used by many town residents to keep out the bears. Frenzel said the effort appears to work well. However Frenzel explained that the town has met resistance from residents who don't want their cans retrofitted. Other users may not fasten the cans properly, he said.
The state agency and the town department also have had discussions with a non-profit organization called the Bear Trust International which helps fund projects aimed at protection from the animals, Frenzel said. Officials are hoping to work with the organization to further bear-proof the town-owned trash containers. It cost the town approximately $1,500 to bear-proof one of its Dumpsters, according to Frenzel.
"We're pretty much taking a beating over the bears ... they're getting very intrusive on the back decks, especially over on Overlook Drive" said Councilman Hollis L. Tharpe. "Our problem is we go and we respond but apparently we can't do anything and we tell the citizens about the feeding and the shelter and they look at us, like, well, are you gonna take the bear away.
"But we're being told we cannot trap the bear and remove it because it's like you said, it's like dumping a bucket of water back into the creek from the Shenandoah River," Tharpe added. "We're talking safety. Our job as a council -- a mayor and a council -- is safety, along with the police department, so when we encounter a bear on the back of someone's deck that's ready to enter a residence, where do we go from there? What do we do? How's other communities taking care of this kind of stuff?"
The law gives residents the right to defend themselves against bears that appear threatening, according to Frenzel. But in most cases a bear would not pose a danger to a resident, Frenzel said.
But as Frenzel explained, the law enforcement agents with the state department, along with town police, could address the problem of residents who refuse to put away food and other items which attract bears. Those residents are violating code if they refuse to rid their porches of trash which attracts bears.
"Even if it is an inadvertent feeding of bears that is a violation of code," Frenzel said.
Tharpe noted that most residents cooperate with the rules and allow for the retrofitting of trash cans. Management of the apartment complex on Criser Road also adapted their large trash bins.
"The public is aware of the habitat and the food and the water issue, but we still have this lady that we cannot give an answer to," Tharpe said.
Frenzel told council he spoke to the Overlook Drive resident and said she seemed to understand that trapping bears would not solve her problem.