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Living with Black Bears in Virginia

by Reid Pierce Armstrong

This video is on loan to the Southside Sentinel by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. It is approximately 20 minutes long and may be slow to load. If you experience difficulties, press pause and wait a minute or two before resuming.

OCRAN – Two black bear sightings have been reported in the White Stone area in recent days, following sightings in the Hartfield area last week.

Angie and Jeff Jackson said they saw a black bear in their backyard on Clark Point Drive near Ocran July 1.

It was about 5 a.m., Jeff said, “We heard a noise and thought it was our daughter in the kitchen.”

But then the couple saw something moving just out their bedroom window. “We thought it might be a deer at first,” Jeff said. “We’ve had deer outside our window before.”

They noticed that the bird feeder usually hanging off the corner of the house was gone.

“The way the animal’s outline looked in the dark, I thought it might be a giant hog,” Jeff said.

But when Angie turned on the flood lights, the couple realized there was a black bear about a foot outside their window eating birdseed from their feeder, which it had torn from the house and destroyed.

“I ran to get my camera,” Jeff said. Angie kept an eye on the bear, which finished off the birdseed and then stood up on its hind legs and looked directly into the kitchen window, which is catty-corner from the bedroom window.

“If he could reach the kitchen window, then he had to be about six feet tall,” Jeff said.

Undeterred by the floodlights, the bear then headed around to the side of the house where the trash cans are stored.

“I was still fumbling to get my camera ready,” Jeff said. “I heard him getting into the trash and I realized he was just going to make a big mess so I opened the garage door.”

The bear had already knocked over one of the trash cans and stepped on it to pop the lid off, Jeff said.

The noise of the door opening was enough to scare the bear off. He ran back around behind the house and off into the woods. The Jacksons live on about three acres that borders a stretch of woods between Clark Point and Dungeons Thicket.

“I figure he’s long gone,” Jeff said. “He moved pretty quickly. He was definitely skittish.”

The Jacksons warned their neighbors, several of whom reported that their own bird feeders had gone missing.

They also called game warden Bob Mathers who came about an hour later to assess the situation but noted that the bear could be anywhere by now.

Ed Bosher of Dymer Creek Estates said he saw a black bear about a week earlier on Chase’s Road.

“I was slowing down to turn when I saw what looked like a bear headed into the woods a couple hundred yards away,” he said. “I could tell it was a bear by the way it moved. It was more of a lumbering – you know how bears move.”

Bosher called his wife Gloria to tell her but she said she didn’t really believe it.

Julia Dixon of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries believes it. She said that black bear sightings are on the rise in recent years and there are now black bears in almost every county in Virginia.

“Their population has been booming in the last five years here,” she said. “It’s common to see them passing though the area this time of year during mating season.”
Another bear was sighted in Hartfield just last week.

Dixon said bears often follow the creeks looking for food.

“What we want to avoid is having them finding food and sticking around.”

Trash cans, bird feeders and pet food can be common attractants for bears. But black bears also tend to be skittish, Dixon said.

“You never want to approach one,” she said, but at the same time, black bears almost never attack. A loud noise will typically scare them off.

If you see a bear, the best thing you can do is to leave it alone, Dixon said.

If the bear is near your house, be sure to give it an escape route. Bring pets and people inside and make loud noises to scare the bear away. For more information on black bears, visit the Game and Inland Fisheries website at http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear.

posted 07.08.2009

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