Black bear sightings continue as bear numbers rise

by Kate Evans

Black bears have been making the rounds in both populated and rural areas of Morgan County with the numbers of bears in the region still on the upswing. State wildlife officials are reminding people to not feed bears or other wildlife.

West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) District Wildlife Biologist Rich Rogers said he’s gotten a lot more calls about bears this year from Morgan County than in the past-mostly from developments and highly populated areas.

Downtown bear sighting

Rogers said the bear that was wandering around downtown Berkeley Springs last week was probably a young male bear that got lost and confused with all the noise and the people. DNR officials didn’t trap, immobilize and remove the bear.

Rogers said it wasn’t good   that people were gathering around the bear to take its photo. A bear that feels cornered can attack.

Sheriff’s report

Morgan County Sheriff K.C. Bohrer said they typically average around half a dozen calls about bears a year. Residents will say that a bear is on their deck or is destroying their bird feeder. Usually the bear is gone by the time deputies get there.

A couple of Cacapon South calls this year were about bears that damaged doors while trying to get inside, Bohrer said.   Generally what draws the bear is poor food storage. People have dog food stored in their garage or on their decks and the bear smells it.

Bohrer said that a friend from the Virginia Game Commission advised using water balloons half filled with water and half with ammonia as a bear deterrent. Hang them up where a bird feeder would be. A bear will swat the balloons with their natural curiosity. The balloons break open and the bear winds up covered with ammonia. The water balloons have been used very successfully, he said.

“If I got ammonia all over me, I’d be leaving, too,” Bohrer said.

Bohrer noted that bear sightings here used to be rare.   Now they’re more commonplace as the bear habitat has evolved.

Cacapon State Park

Cacapon State Park Superintendent Scott Fortney said they haven’t had any bear issues at the park this year. There are bear that will pass through once in a while.

Bear sightings are concentrated on top of Cacapon Mountain and more toward the Batt shelter. They’ve seen single bears and sows passing through with cubs but none that are coming around regularly as nuisance bears, he said.

Park staff keeps the trash picked up every day and keeps things generally clean, Fortney said. The picnic area is also checked twice a day for garbage.

Fortney said that bears are opportunistic. Once they find a food source they keep coming back until it’s no longer a source.

What to do about bears

DNR wildlife biologist Rich Rogers said that people should stop feeding the bears. Cat and dog food needs to be kept inside. Keep trash inside buildings and don’t have compost heaps. Don’t put out hummingbird feeders if a bear is coming around — it’s like hanging out a can of soda for them.

Bears become garbage bears and nuisance bears if there is a food source, Rogers said. Put ammonia-soaked rags around garbage to keep them away.

Store trash in a secure location. Rinse food cans. Put out garbage the morning of the trash pick-up. Clean garbage cans regularly with bleach or ammonia.

Keep compost piles away from your home. Turn the pile often to keep down the odor. Cover it with lime or wood ash to reduce the smell and speed decomposition.

Remove bird feeders in the spring and don’t put them up until late fall.

Bear activity, food

Bears will come onto porches and decks, get into bird feeders, overturn charcoal grills, knock down hummingbird feeders, turn over garbage cans, shred trash bags and destroy animal feed barrels as they search for food.

Black bears prefer nuts, berries, cherries, acorns, seeds, grasses and roots, but also eat insects and small mammals. The berries are coming out now which means there’s beginning to be more food for the bears, said Rogers.

Peak of sightings

The peak of bear sightings and bear damage usually happens in

Bear track on Sleepy Creek Mountain.

May and June and into early summer before the berries come out as there’s not much food for them to eat, Rogers said.     May and June is bear mating season.

People also see more bears during breeding season when males are looking for females or when the young male bears get booted out of the den and they’re trying to establish their territory.

Nuisance bears

A nuisance bear situation can be resolved in most cases by removing the food source. If people are still having problems after taking away the food, they should call wildlife officials, Rogers said. The bear would have to be trapped and euthanized.

Rogers noted that there is no place to put problem bears and they have a homing instinct. If officials moved a bear several hundred miles away and released it, the animal would return to the same area, causing havoc all the way back home.

Rogers stressed that people should be careful about the time of year they call them for bear removal. It’s the time of year when there’s sows with cubs. If they take the sow, the cubs will be wandering around confused and lost.

Bears prefer to be in the woods and not around people, Rogers said. People need to change their lifestyles and try to live with the bears and get them to stay in the woods where they belong.

Rogers also noted that there’s a liberal bear hunting season in place in Morgan County.

Bear encounters

If you encounter a bear, make a lot of noise to scare it away. Hit some pots and pans and yell and they’ll generally run. Give them plenty of clearance because they can be potentially dangerous. Don’t intimidate them or get too close.

Back away and leave the area. Don’t turn and run. Don’t try to go after them or hit them with a stick. Give them a wide berth.

If you’re having nuisance bear problems, call the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources at 304-822-3551.