The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Outdoors

June 1, 2014

What’s up with the bears this year?

Haven’t had a bear in your backyard this spring, have you? Better yet, how about on your porch, or even in the bed of your truck?

If you live in southern West Virginia, and I suspect for much of the state, the answer may be yes. The black bear population seems a little more active than usual this year. We have them in people’s yards, in town, on porches, in vehicles, restaurants, parking lots and swimming pools. The bears are seemingly everywhere than where they are supposed to be, that is just out in the woods.

I have dealt with bears and their antics for much of the past 35 plus years in my role with the DNR, but I wanted to get the scoop from someone who has even more experience with bears, so I called Colin Carpenter, bear biologist for the Division of Natural Resources wildlife section. I wanted to hear what the biologist had to say about the recent bear activity.

“We see a spike in activity and nuisance bear complaints every year in about mid-May,” Colin told me. “So, a lot of bear complaints at this time of year is normal.”

What is unusual this year is an extreme amount of calls in the Fayetteville area. They are really concentrated there. “This is all food based,” he said, “Bears have been out of the den for about three months now. There is not much natural food out there at this time. We always see a drop in nuisance bear calls in July when the blackberries come on. We may see a spike in activity later in August before the hard mast (acorns and other nuts) starts to drop.”

OK, that sounds about right. I think what I am hearing is the bears are just looking for groceries, and bear complaints are basically normal for this time of year.

What we really don’t know is why they seem to have descended on one of West Virginia’s coolest small towns, Fayetteville. Maybe the bears have a raft trip booked or they want to go to Pies and Pints for lunch (actually, I think there has been a bear in their Dumpster). It is amazing to the people that get bear calls how many of the bears that the public sees are “at least 500 pounds.” There may be a 500-pound bear in the state, but I have not seen him yet.

When you think about it, all a bear really does (or for that matter any wild animal) is walk around and look for his next meal. This is all fine and good if the bear is in the Cranberry Wilderness, on top of Cheat Mountain, or in any other large stretch of unpopulated country that we have. Mr. Bear doesn’t run into any problems until he comes upon us, Homo sapiens. What the bear usually finds is an abundance of goodies beyond his wildest bear dreams. There is food everywhere!

Dog and cat food left out in the open just for the taking, bird seed, corn, and don’t forget those barbecue grills that smell so good — all this is really great. But then Mr. Bear comes upon the jackpot; these creatures that he has stumbled upon actually leave vast amounts of food placed out in metal and plastic cans, just for the taking! When you have been surviving your whole life on the bounty of the woods, nuts and berries, and you come upon your first garbage can full of Domino’s Pizza scraps, you are not going back to eating like Euell Gibbons.

So the lesson for us is obvious: Take away the food source and often the bear will move on. Don’t leave pet food out on the porch, and don’t fill the bird feeders if you know a bear is in the neighborhood. Keep your garbage cans put away if possible, and the current deluge of bear sightings will subside and hopefully life will get a little more normal.

If you see that 500-pounder, call me. I just want to see him for myself!

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