By Alex Bridges - email@example.com
A black bear sighted Friday morning near an eatery in Winchester likely smelled breakfast, according to a state wildlife expert.
Witnesses spotted the creature by the Bob Evans restaurant in the city on Millwood Avenue along Rifleman Lane and Christopher Street, according to a press release from Winchester's public information officer Joel Davis. The witnesses estimated the bear weighed approximately 150 pounds, the release stated.
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries usually receives reports of bear sightings in the spring or early summer, according to Fred Frenzel, a district wildlife biologist for the agency. Frenzel noted bears in the Northern Shenandoah Valley have, on rare occasions, wandered into more populated areas where people may spot the animals. Bears have been sighted in Woodstock, Strasburg, Winchester and Staunton, he said.
The aroma of food cooking can attract a bear wandering in the immediate area, according to Frenzel.
"A restaurant wouldn't attract a bear from miles away to Shoney's," Frenzel said. "But if a bear happens to wander into the area, there are lots of good food smells around restaurants. You've got Dumpsters. You've got cooking food smells coming from the building."
Restaurants also often store containers of used cooking oil and grease outside which can attract bears. Frenzel suggested restaurants keep such containers secured.
Bear sightings continue with the increase in bear population and their search for food.
"The bear population has definitely increased pretty steadily probably in the last 15 years or so, so there are more bears around, which, of course, increases the chances of people seeing bears," Frenzel said.
Most bears stick to wooded areas where they find their main food source and remain out of sight, Frenzel explained.
"There's a good acorn crop this year and acorns are their primary fall food, so the majority of them are going to be in the woods," Frenzel said. "Actually, the majority of our bear calls tend to drop off pretty drastically this time of year because there is a tremendous amount of food in the woods and that's where they've gone, so why this one's wandering I don't know.
"Hopefully it'll wander back where it belongs," Frenzel said.
Residents in and around the area of the sighting should bring pets indoors, remove any outdoor food dishes or bird feeders and keep trash cans out of sight, Davis advised. Do not throw food out for the animal to eat, Davis adds.
"Any type of food is going to encourage him to stay around," Frenzel said. "A bear's job is to fill his belly up every day and if he can't succeed at that some place he's going to go someplace else."
Bears have been reported to attack livestock and, occasionally, dogs, but no humans in Virginia, according to Frenzel.
"We can still say truthfully we have never had an unprovoked bear attack in the state of Virginia," Frenzel said. "These black bears, they're not like grizzly bears you have out West. They're by nature not an aggressive animal. They're a fairly shy animal and generally can be intimidated by people."
The bear spotted Friday likely was young, perhaps approximately 2 years old if a male or older if female, given its estimated size, according to Frenzel.
Anyone who sees the bear should not attempt to approach it but should instead call Winchester police at 662-4131.