Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 22, 2013

Bear alert: State should help Bluefield, Va. — now

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— State should help Bluefield, Va. — now

The decision by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to let a black bear continue its residency in Bluefield, Va., is perplexing and, we believe, potentially dangerous.

An agency official told the Daily Telegraph earlier this week that they would not come in and take action until the bear is ranked as a category one threat.

Danny Harrington, with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, says the agency’s Marion office receives a lot of calls about bear sightings in rural Virginia. Those reports are placed into a database and characterized by the seriousness of the incident.

Harrington adds the seriousness of the calls are then ranked.

“A category three is a bear that is led by his stomach or nose,” Harrington said. “He really isn’t causing any trouble. A category two is a bear that is hanging around, not going anywhere and getting into containers.”

A category one is a bear that is in a house “threatening human life, or has wandered into a place of business with revolving doors. That requires immediate response,” he said.

The bear in Bluefield, Va., has been spotted near town hall and several residential dwellings on multiple occasions. The bear also has walked into driveways, and doesn’t seem to be afraid of humans. He hasn’t entered a house or business yet, but do we really want to wait for that to happen?

Do we have to wait for a serious and potentially dangerous encounter to occur before a wildlife specialist from the state will come in and help local authorities with this bear?

Based upon observations from residents who have spotted the bear, it is estimated to be about 6-feet tall “standing on his hind legs,” according to Bluefield, Va., Police Chief Harry Cundiff. In another words — it’s a big bear. And a big concern.

“This bear has completely lost its fear of human beings,” Cundiff said. “We’re concerned for the public. We have obtained rubber pellets to knock it down without killing it, but we hope to hear back from the bear specialist.”

Town officials are urging residents not to put their trash out and not to leave their dog and cat food outside until the bear can be removed from the downtown area and relocated back into the wild. However, that will require the help of a specialist — most likely someone from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

We don’t know if this bear is a category one, two or three threat. But we do know it is a serious concern.

Granted, we live in a rural area where encounters with wildlife are common. However, this bear is not just wandering in one or two isolated backyards. He (or she) is hanging out in residential neighborhoods and near town hall. Because of this, we feel the state should be in town now —not later — helping local officials with this problem. It’s time to look beyond the categorical rankings and make public safety the priority.