It is the time of year when bears are on the move and, at least in some residential areas, making pests of themselves.
West Virginia Division of Natural Resources officials are warning residents that “feeding bears puts people, property and bears at risk.”
Black bears begin leaving their dens around mid-March. They emerge hungry and looking for food.
People who feed them by accident or by design put themselves, their property, and especially the bears at risk, according to state Division of Natural Resources officials.
To prevent nuisance bear activity around the state, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources is asking residents to secure or remove food, pet food, scraps, trash and other bear attractants around their homes.
“Deliberately feeding a black bear is illegal in West Virginia, but people tend to forget that unintentionally feeding a bear can also cause serious problems for humans, their property and our state animal,” said Colin Carpenter, black bear project leader for the DNR.
“Once a bear gets a taste for human food, they become more of a nuisance and often have to be humanely killed for safety reasons.”
All too often “a fed bear is a dead bear.”
The peak of nuisance bear activity in West Virginia occurs in May and June when natural food sources are scarce. High-energy foods – serviceberries, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries – do not become available until later in the summer, which is why hungry black bears can be found in residential areas in the spring.
“Bears that roam around residential areas are less likely to stay if they do not find anything to eat, so that’s why we remind folks every year to take responsibility for their property by removing or securing food attractants before a bear finds them.”
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.
Usually most active in early morning and late evening during spring and summer, bears will raid household garbage cans and pet food supplies that have not been secured.
“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.
“The key to avoiding human-bear conflicts is to remove or secure food attractants before a bear finds them,” officials emphasize.
In addition to household garbage, bears will eat bird seed, 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.”
The unintentional feeding of black bears is something that can be prevented, officials note.
The “easy pickings” of unsecured foods entice bears to overcome their natural fear of humans and raid again. That is typically when the DNR receives complaints about nuisance bears.
The situation often proves fatal for the bear, according to officials.
To avoid having bears around residential areas, wildlife officials recommend the following steps:
l 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.
l Food scraps that produce large amounts of odor should be sealed in a plastic bag before being placed in the trash.
l Food scraps should not be placed in a compost pile during the summer months.
l Residents should remove all outside pet food at night.
l Bird feeders should be taken down, cleaned, and stored until late fall.
l Store livestock feed in bear-proof containers or inside a secure building.
l Keep bears out of beehives and chicken houses by installing an electric fence.
Feeding any wildlife should be avoided for numerous reasons, including the fact that it is illegal in West Virginia, disease transmission can occur, it increases the chance of predation and habitat destruction around the feeding site, can harm the animal’s overall health, among other reasons.
Carpenter said following practical and common-sense recommendations for reducing human-bear conflicts is the best way to make sure that state’s animals remain wild.