RICHMOND — The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) is reminding residents that as spring approaches, wild animals become more active, including black bears as they emerge from their winter dens hungry and in search of an easy meal.
DWR notes that during this time it is important for homeowners to secure all potential food sources to reduce bear encounters on their property.
Easy food sources for bears include garbage, compost piles, barbeque grills, birdseed, and pet food stored outside.
“The goal is to make human sources of food harder for a bear to get than what nature provides — especially food that is high in fat and calories,” says Nelson Lafon, Forest Wildlife Program Manager for the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.
Bears are naturally cautious of humans, but they can overcome their wariness if people reward them with food; either intentionally by placing food out or unintentionally by not securing garbage, pet food, or other food sources, the department said.
Steps to avoid attracting black bears near your residence:
- Secure Garbage: Keep in a locked shed or inside until collected or use a bear-resistant container.
- Take down birdfeeders: For tips on attracting birds, not bears, click here.
- Secure pet and/or livestock feed in bear-resistant containers or inside locked sheds.
- Clean up porches/decks: Clean grills, remove any potential food sources, and remember a screened-in porch is not a “secure” storage area from a bear’s point of view.
- Never leave food, trash, or pet/livestock feed inside your vehicle.
“By following these steps, people can prevent most problems with bears,” said Lafon. “Our staff respond to hundreds of situations involving bears every year, and most are due to these attractants.”
In addition to adult bears being more active, it’s also the time when females with cubs begin to emerge from their winter den. DWR notes cubs can become separated from their mothers for short periods of time, but in almost all instances, no intervention is necessary, and the cubs should be left alone.
According to DWR, when a female bear with cubs perceives a threat, whether due to barking dogs, people in the area, or otherwise, she will often “tree” her cubs. Cubs will scamper into the treetops until it is safe to come back down. The female will often leave the area, circling back periodically to check for when she feels the area is secure.
Anyone who sees cubs in a tree and no female in the area should leave the area immediately. Keeping the area free of disturbance — humans and particularly dogs — is critical for the female to be able to return and collect her cubsm the department said.
Never attempt to handle or capture a black bear cub found on your property. If the cub has a visible injury, is lethargic, or has been seen in the same location for more than 24 hours, contact the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources Wildlife Conflict Helpline, toll-free at 1-855-571-9003. Also contact the helpline to report any concerns about bears in their area and receive additional advice on preventing and mitigating wildlife conflicts.