Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Greg Jordan

April 25, 2012

Wildlife and humans can coexist as long as the weather cooperates

I was relaxing at my Mom and Dad’s home in Fayette County last Sunday when my Aunt Shirley dropped by. After giving her a hug, she told me that we might get three to five inches of snow Monday.

Snow? Now? After days of pushing the 80 degree mark, we were going to get snow? We put the television on the Weather Channel and I checked the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Va. The forecasts didn’t say anything about getting three to five inches of snow, but they were just ambiguous enough to make me worry. I usually get Monday’s late shift so I can spend a whole day with Mom and Dad, but I decided to be safe and head back to Mercer County after dinner.

When I woke up Monday morning, I saw just enough snow to make me wonder what the heck is happening to our weather. I remembered that movie a few years ago, “The Day After Tomorrow,” where the world is plunged suddenly into an ice age. A lot of that was science fiction. For instance, there’s this one scene where a huge wave suddenly floods New York City. From what I read later, the whole Antarctic ice cap would have to melt before sea levels rose enough to make that happen.

When I saw the snow, I recalled the cold snap we had a few years ago. The freeze affected the growth of berries and acorns that black bears and other wild animals depend upon. When fall approached, hungry bears were looting around restaurant trash — in at least one case, a bear got stuck — and at least one bear was seen in downtown Bluefield. Fall is when bears try to fatten up for the coming winter hibernation, so they need to put on the pounds. Humans try to lose weight, bears work to gain it.

Unfortunately, fall isn’t the only time when bears get hungry. A specialist with the state Department of Natural Resources told me recently that bears are especially hungry right now, too. They’ve just come out of hibernation and the fat they stored up for their winter nap is gone. Nature’s grocery store hasn’t stocked up yet. Some green plants are about the only food bears can find right now, so they’re ready to raid garage cans smelling of fried chicken and bird feeders brimming with seeds. Now is a good time to put away the bird feeders and make sure the trash cans are secure.

The lessons other wildlife specialists taught me come to mind now. One thing I’ve been warned not to do is feed a bear. Basically, that seemingly sweet bear thinks you’re a snack machine. What do we do when those potato chips we wanted get stuck? We shake the machine. I heard this one story about an elderly woman who was feeding a bear some cookies. When she ran out of goodies, the bear gave her a smack that broke bones. I guess the bear figured she was jammed, and that a good hit would shake loose some more cookies.

I didn’t cover that story, but I did do the one about a black bear that entered a local home one summer evening and helped himself to the contents of a refrigerator. The homeowner had left their basement door open, so the bear took that as an invitation and came inside. He opened the fridge’s door – yes, bears can do that – and ate a chocolate cake, sundry leftover food and some fishing worms.

One wildlife specialist told me that when a black bear decides it’s going to do something, that something is going to happen. This “something” can include acts such as breaking into a car or knocking down a door. They’re strong, smart, and not afraid to apply both assets in order to get what they want. I like to make sure my garbage is out of reach.

When I was attending Concord University. I returned to my apartment on campus to find a six-point buck standing in front of my door. I can just as easily envision coming home to find a black bear at my front door. I’ve seen the adult bears up close when there was an electric fence between us, and I don’t want a close encounter without an electric fence, thank you.

Hopefully we won’t be seeing any bears looting around garbage bins or stealing chocolate cakes this summer. I know feeding them can be tempting, but as I said before, don’t do it. Yes, they can look cute and cuddly, but they’re solid muscle and they have teeth and claws for a reason. I’ve seen the cousins of black bears, polar bears, in zoos, and they look like they could go through your standard front door and not notice.

Tuesday’s weather was noticeably warmer than Monday’s cold and snow, so maybe the local flora escaped serious damage. I know we’re all tired of winter, and I’m sure the local bears, possums and raccoons agree with us. If the acorn and berries are plentiful this year, wildlife and humans will be able to stay out of each other’s way. If not, we’ll all just have to be patient.

Greg Jordan is the Daily Telegraph’s senior reporter. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com

 

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