What to do if you interact with a black bear

What to do if you interact with a black bear
Black bears can be found all throughout Virginia. (Source: DGIF)

(WWBT) - Black bears are found almost everywhere across the state of Virginia, and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) says it is important for everyone to learn about black bears, what to do protect yourself, and how to keep black bears wild.

Some bears may wander into residential areas due to the smell of food around homes, according to the DGIF.

"The most common food attractants are bird feeders, garbage, and pet food; however, outdoor grills, livestock food, compost, fruit trees, and beehives will also attract bears," DGIF said.

You can do the following to prevent bears from stopping by your property:

  • Secure your garbage in a bear-resistant trash can or store it in a secure building.
  • Take down bird feeders if there are bears in the area.
  • Don't put meat scraps in your compost pile.
  • Don't leave pet food outdoors.
  • Keep your grill clean.
  • Make sure your neighbors are following the same recommendations.
  • Install electric fencing, an inexpensive and extremely efficient proven deterrent to bears, around dumpsters, gardens, fruit trees, beehives, or other potential food sources.
  • After a few failed attempts to find food around homes, bears will usually leave the area in search of natural wild food

In most cases, according to the DGIF, bears will detect you and leave the area before being spotted. However, if you do come in contact with a bear, you can do the following:

  • Never run from a bear. Running could prompt the bear to chase. If in a group, stay together and make sure that your dog stays leashed.
  • Enjoy and keep a respectful distance! If a bear is up a tree on or near your property, give it space. Do not approach, and bring your pets inside to provide the bear a clear path to leave your property.
  • If the bear hasn’t seen you, calmly leave the area, while making a bit of noise so the bear will not be surprised by you.
  • If the bear has seen you, back away slowly while facing the bear. Speaking softly may also let the bear know you mean no harm.

What should you do if you see a bear on your property?

  • Until April/May, sows with cubs are typically in dens. Most small bears people see in early spring are not actual “baby bears” but yearlings (>12 months old). They do not need their mothers to survive.
  • If a small yearling is on your property, the worst thing you can do is feed the bear. Yearlings need to learn how to find natural foods and not become food-conditioned or habituated to humans.
  • Once females leave their dens with 4 to 5-month-old cubs, they will typically travel in close groups unless something makes the female nervous. If you see a very small cub, do not try to remove it from the area or “save it.” When sensing danger, a female bear will typically send her cub(s) up a tree and leave the area. In such cases, the female will almost always return to gather up the cub(s) when no people or pets are around, usually after dark.

If you have a problem with a bear after taking the recommended steps, you can call the Wildlife Conflict Helpline at 855-871-9003.

Click here to learn more about bears.

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