Persistent bear worries Strasburg residents

Blair Starr, of Strasburg, stands beside this bear box that her husband Ben constructed in the backyard of their Founders Way town home. The couple and their neighbors have been bullied by a black bear that scales privacy fences along a row of town homes in search of food. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG — Blair Starr and her husband Ben Starr, both 29, bought their first home together in Founder’s Landing in September 2016, and witnessed the beginning of what would be a long battle with the neighborhood bear.

The bear comes out at any time of day, without warning, from the quarry behind the Starr’s family home to search the trash cans in the neighborhood’s fenced-in backyards for an easy meal, damaging whatever is in his path.

“I don’t think he even needs to hunt at all because it’s all right here for him,” Blair Starr said.

She said she has reached out to local police and the conservation police, who told her to protect the trash cans and to use a paintball gun to scare the bear away when he comes to the neighborhood.

Her husband, who is an engineer, spent aboutvtwo weeks building a containment system for the trash that the family has dubbed the “bear box,” and it cost him around $1,000 in materials to construct with the help of his father.

Blair Starr points to bear claw marks on the privacy fence outside her town home on Founders Way in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

Even though the family has taken these extensive measures, it hasn’t stopped the bear from visiting.

“I consider the bear being in our yard a direct threat,” Blair Starr said. “They said that you can’t do anything to the bear unless it’s a direct threat, and I don’t really understand at what point they’ll take it seriously that it is a problem in our neighborhood.”

She expressed concerns about her two young boys, both under 2 years old, and having to constantly be wary whenever she goes on a walk with them because the bear is out at any time of day. He has damaged the fence in their backyard and has climbed over it many times to get to the trash.

“If he wanted to, there’s nothing stopping him from getting through our back door,” she said.

Fred Frenzel, district wildlife biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, explained that there aren’t really long-term solutions to this problem, as relocating the bear would simply be a “Band-Aid approach,” and that more often than not, the bear ends up coming back home.

He said that with bears coming out of their dens this time of year, they’re looking for whatever food is easiest to get, as most of their natural diet isn’t available in the wild yet.

“Generally we try to manage bear issues by managing what attracts the bears, which is food,” Frenzel said.

He also said that the department recommends a two-step approach, first by removing the reward,  which would be good food, by reinforcing trash cans, removing bird or squirrel feeders, etc., and second by punishing the bears with loud noises or paintball guns, if necessary, to create a bad experience and make them want to avoid that area.

Some of the issues with that include when the residents of a neighborhood aren’t all on the same page when it comes to actively combating the bears, Frenzel added, because if every trash can is not protected, the bears will keep trying to come back.

“It’s difficult,” Frenzel said. “We’ve got more bears than we’ve had before, and we’ve got more people than we’ve had before.”

Blair Starr said that she wants to start advocating for a solution to the bear problem at homeowners association meetings or Strasburg Town Council meetings. She has also been looking for help from local police and the conservation officers to get the whole neighborhood working together to deter the bear from the neighborhood.

“I don’t really see a solution to this unless everybody helps out,” she said.

Teresa Holliday, 37, has lived in the Founder’s Landing neighborhood with her family since December 2011, and said that the bear has been more aggressive in the last year in his hunt for food.

She has four sons, aged from 4 to 14 years old, and said that they had been a very active family in the past, but with the bear being out more frequently at any time of day, she’s had to put a halt to the outdoor activities the family enjoys, especially fishing at the quarry where the bear is often seen.

“We’re fearful,” Holliday said. “We want something to be done, we just don’t want anything bad to happen in order for something to be done.”

Contact staff writer Briahnna Brown at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or bbrown@nvdaily.com