“A fed bear is a dead bear,” according to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
Feeding bears is also against state law, officials warn.
“It is understandable that some people will set out food to get a closer look at this often secretive animal,” according to Colin Carpenter, black bear project leader for the state DNR Wildlife Resources Section.
“However, these actions often lead to the destruction of the bear. Bear movements are tied to food sources.
“Bears that roam in and around residential areas in search of food are less likely to stay if they do not find anything to eat,” Carpenter noted.
“The key to avoiding human-bear conflicts is to remove or secure food attractants before a bear finds them.
“This year, we want to get the word out about human-bear conflicts before bears show up in your neighborhood,” Carpenter emphasized.
“The peak of nuisance bear activity in West Virginia occurs during the month of May. However, bears begin leaving their dens in mid-March, and nuisance complaints begin coming in around April 1.”
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Human-bear interactions increase during the spring and summer for several reasons, according to DNR officials.
Natural food sources are at the lowest point when bears leave their dens in the spring.
Bears often spend several weeks feeding on green vegetation while continuing to lose weight. High-energy foods such as serviceberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries do not become available until later in the summer.
When bears are fed by humans, they “can’t be converted back, they’re too tame,” according to officials. “They expect to be fed and they associate people with food.”
That association includes marauding household garbage cans and pet food supplies that have not been secured, according to officials.
Human-related food sources are higher in calories and easier to obtain than natural foods. All bears, especially yearlings that are on their own for the first time, will take advantage of easy food sources.
Bears will continue on their way if they do not find easy food sources.
Capturing and moving bears that have become accustomed to humans is a costly and often ineffective way of addressing the problem, especially if it just moves the problem from one place to another. As a result, the bears must be destroyed.
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In addition, the bear breeding season, which peaks from late June through July, puts many bears on the move.
During the breeding season, males will cover large areas while searching for females.
This is also the time of year when adult female bears will chase off their yearlings so they may breed again.
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Bear populations have increased in both number and distribution in the past 20 years, according to officials. Bears are now found in areas where they have been absent for decades and have been reported in all 55 counties.
The numbers are especially growing in Wyoming and McDowell counties, according to officials.
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For the most part, the black bear is a docile animal, officials maintain. They will bluff charge, chomp their teeth, and make a huffing sound in an effort to scare other animals, including humans.
However, between their powerful strength, their agility, and quickness, not to mention sharp claws, a human can be seriously injured with one slap from the bears’ paw.
Bears quickly become habituated to handouts in the form of trash, bird seed, pet food, and feed placed out for other animals, and lose their fear of humans.
Bears that have lost their fear of humans resort to raiding garbage, outdoor freezers, outdoor storage sheds, vehicles, and other structures associated with people.
Unfortunately, when these activities are repeated, DNR personnel are forced to humanely destroy the offending animal for safety reasons.
“There is simply nowhere to move bears that have become a problem,” Carpenter said.
Once a bear associates its food source with people, then it can wander into communities looking for food. These situations occur every year, officials maintain.
In addition to household garbage, bears will eat bird food, dog and cat food, and may try to get the grease from outdoor grills.
“They have a tremendous sense of smell,” according to wildlife biologists. “They can smell the food inside your house. If you’ve got dog or cat food stored on your porch, they know it.”
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“The unintentional feeding of black bears is something that can be prevented,” DNR officials emphasize.
“Garbage needs to be secured in a bear-proof facility and placed out for collection on the morning of pick-up, not the night before.
“Food scraps that produce large amounts of odor should be sealed in a plastic bag before being placed in the trash.
“Food scraps should not be placed in a compost pile during the summer months.
“Residents should remove all outside pet food at night, and bird feeders should be taken down, cleaned, and stored until late fall to further discourage bears from feeding around human habitation,” according to officials.
“If you do not remove food attractants until after a bear has become a nuisance, you will have caused the death of that animal,” officials maintain.
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Feeding of any wildlife should be avoided for numerous reasons, including, but not limited to, disease transmission, increased predation, habitat destruction around the feeding site, ethical concerns, and the animal’s overall health.
“Following these practical and common sense recommendations will reduce human-bear conflicts and assure that more of the state’s animals remain wild,” according to officials.