Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

June 2, 2014

Safeguard your home against hungry bears

By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD, Va. — Humans become more active and search for new places to eat when warm weather arrives, and so do the bears of West Virginia and Virginia.

More black bear activity this time of year is an annual occurrence. Bears have been on the move since April, said Allen Boynton, a terrestrial wildlife manager for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

There have been reports of bears visiting local garbage bins for food, particularly in the vicinity of East River Mountain, a formation straddling the West Virginia and Virginia state line. The long ridge, which is in close proximity to the town of Bluefield, Va., and the city of Bluefield is bear habitat, Boynton said. The mountainous region has plenty of areas where bears can roam.

Bears routinely forage for food in their natural habitat, but they will venture into communities when the nuts, berries and other natural foods — known as mast — are in short supply. Supplies available to bears were small the last time they started their annual hibernation.

“Last year we did not have hardly any acorns, so the bears went to hibernation hungry,” Boynton said. “And when they came out in April, they were hungry, so they were looking around for food; and in early spring, there’s not quite as much food with everything greening up.”

Some wild fruits are beginning to ripen. One is the serviceberry, which blooms early and creates a tasty fruit bears love, he said. Another fruit starting to ripen is cherries.

Now that black bears are awake and roaming, it is important for people to become “bear aware,” Boynton said. Bears use their sense of smell to find food, and they can easily smell food left in garbage cans. Elastic cords used to seal garbage cans will not keep them out, but there are ways to secure garbage until it is picked up. Garbage containers can be locked in basements or garages, for instance. Even electric fencing can be used to keep bears out of garbage and to secure assets such as beehives.

“A lot of people just don’t know about bears,” Boynton said. “A lot of people are scared of bears. Bears are pretty nonaggressive animals, but they are strong. They will bend poles with bird seed on them and get into beehives.”

The best way to avoid bear problems is to learn about bears, Boynton said. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries offers additional information for homeowners and businesses situated near bear habitats.