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Virginia Dept. of Wildlife asks for help in keeping wild bears wild

As spring approaches, both people and wild animals become more active. The spring months are a busy time for wildlife, especially black bears as they emerge from their winter dens hungry and in search of an easy meal. During this time of increased activity, it is important for homeowners to secure all potential food sources to reduce bear encounters on their property.

Natural foods can be scarce during the early spring, so bears often look for easy food sources. These sources may be your garbage, compost pile, 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. 

Take the following 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:
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 this time of year, it’s also the time when females with cubs begin to emerge from their winter den and start exploring the landscape. During this time bear cubs can become separated from their mothers for short periods of time. In almost all instances, no intervention is necessary, and the cubs should be left alone.

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.  Although cubs may still be very small (normally weighing 5lbs or less) they are adept climbers! The cubs will scamper high into the tree tops and await guidance from their mother on when 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. If you see cubs in a tree and no female in the area, you should leave the area immediately. The female will return (often at night) and call the cubs back down when she feels there is no immediate threat to her or the cubs. Keeping the area free of disturbance (humans and particularly dogs) is critical for the female to be able to return and collect her cubs. 

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, please contact the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources Wildlife Conflict Helpline, toll free at 1-855-571-9003. 

For more information on black bears in Virginia, please visit the DWR website and learn how you can do your part to keep bears wild: 

Residents can contact the toll-free Wildlife Conflict Helpline at 1-855-571-9003 to report any concerns about bears in their area and receive additional advice on preventing and mitigating wildlife conflicts.

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