Better be aware: Bears at large

By Ryan Cornell

One of the best perks about living in the valley also is one drawback for many area residents: the frequent presence of wildlife, including black bears, on their property.

While Virginia’s black bear population has increased over the past few years and residential development has continued to cut into their habitats, more homeowners are receiving unexpected visits from these backwoods neighbors.

Lee Walker, outreach director for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said bears are reported in nearly every Virginia county, especially areas near the Shenandoah National Park, Dismal Swamp and George Washington and Jefferson National forests.

“Not a day goes by without a report,” he said. “When we remove their habitats, that forces them into smaller spaces and gives them more opportunities to spread to urban areas.”

He said the bears are looking for an easy meal by raiding trash cans and bird feeders — bird feed is like candy to them, he said.

“You remove the food source and you’ll force that bear to search somewhere else,” Walker said. “He has no reason to be there now.”

He suggested people keep their garbage and pet food indoors, remove their birdfeeders and clean their barbecue grills, which will attract bears that smell the leftover grease and fat.

These black bears are less likely to attack humans than the brown bears and grizzly bears that live in the West, but Walker said he’s had reports of bears trying to break into the windows of cabins and cottages at Massanutten Resort. He said he had to remind campers to seal their food.

Because bears are a hunted species, the department uses hunting as a tool to help manage the population. People can learn more about dealing with black bears at the VDGIF website, dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear/living-with-black-bears.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com