The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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June 3, 2011

Beware of the bears

Peak season marked by urban sightings

BECKLEY — Officials across West Virginia are seeing the usual, early summer uptick in bear sightings, as urban areas increasingly encroach into black bear habitats.

A bear was spotted and captured Thursday by Division of Natural Resources officers in Beckley, just off Johnstown Road. The bear, likely a yearling, was found in a tree, and responding officials tranquilized and then transported the bear to be tagged and released into an area where it would be less likely to make human contact.

Colin Carpenter, a wildlife biologist with the Beckley office of the Division of Natural Resources, delivered the tranquilizers to the bear and managed the scene until proper materials could be brought in to cushion the bear’s fall from the tree. Carpenter said bear sightings are not uncommon.

“This is the second one this week actually,” Carpenter said. “ We had one in Bradley on Tuesday night.”

He said he also received two calls about a bear in Crab Orchard last week, but callers said the bear was missing a front paw, which was also true of the bear caught Thursday. Carpenter said it was possible the sightings were of the same animal.

He said city-roaming bears are becoming increasingly common, and around June, bears are more likely to wander from the forest.

“This time of year is when we see the most activity like this,” Carpenter said. “Yearling bears are dispersing this time of year — ones that are about a year and a half old — and they’re getting in trouble because they’re on their own for the first time.”

Additionally, it is mating season and black bears, in general, are moving about more than usual.

While usually posing no threats to people, black bears are wild animals, and if encountered precaution should be exercised, Carpenter said.

“Generally, leave it alone. Stay away from it,” he advised. “Try to keep your pets back. Pets are going to want to chase it, and that’s how they normally get into trees. ... The best thing is just to give them a wide berth, and usually they’ll get out on their own.”

While the bear was tranquilized and captured by DNR officials, that strategy is generally reserved for when bears enter areas with dense populations.

“Normally, we would just pull the crowd back, wait until night and they’ll get down on their own,” Carpenter said. “This was right in the middle of town.”

The bear had drawn quite a crowd to the residential Beckley neighborhood between Jennings Street and Temple Street.

Carpenter said there are a few measures citizens can take to help keep some bears away from urban areas. Eliminating possible food sources, he said, is most helpful in keeping wildlife in the wild.

“That’s what draws them in and what keeps them there in a lot of cases,” Carpenter said. “The best thing to do is put trash out in the morning, take down bird feeders and bring in pet food at night.”

Bear sightings haven’t been limited to Beckley. Media outlets across West Virginia have reported bear sightings in or near Charleston, Huntington and Morgantown. According to one report from a DNR official, more than 1,000 “nuisance” bears are reported in the state every year.

DNR officials are currently studying bear activity in those three cities.

— E-mail: tkuykendall@register-herald.com

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