Just about all of the Mountain State's nimrods know the black bear population has increased in number and distribution in the past 20 to 30 years. In the last two years, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources biologists have received multiple reports of bear sightings in the Western counties along the Ohio River and in the far northern panhandle. In many of these areas, black bears have been absent for nearly 100 years.
In an effort to see one of these beautiful animals, several people are illegally setting out food just to get a glimpse of the state animal. The WVDNR is now cautioning all residents and out-of-state tourists that feeding black bears is a violation of state law. While these people's intentions may be good, it often ends up being a mistreatment to the animals.
Bears that wander near residential areas looking for food are less likely to stay around and become nuisances if they can't find anything to eat.
Here is the leading reason why wildlife agencies throughout the nation are telling people that a "fed bear is a dead bear."
People/bear interactions will increase during the spring and summer for many reasons. Natural food sources are at their lowest when bears come out of hibernation in the spring. High-energy foods like blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and serviceberries are not available until the late summer.
In addition to this, the black bear mating season peaks from late June through July. This is when black bears are on the move. During the breeding season, males will cover a large area searching for females. At the same time, adult female bears will wean or chase off their yearlings so they can mate again. Yearling bears are on their own for the first time. They will be quick to take advantage of an easy food source.
However, they will continue on their way if they don't find this easy food source.
Black bears become habituated to handouts like garbage, birdseed, pet food and feed placed out for other animals.
They also lose their natural fear of people. This often results in them raiding trash cans, outdoor freezers, storage sheds and rural houses when the occupants are not at home. This is when a bear is a nuisance animal. If the bear repeats this activity, DNR personnel have no choice but to humanely destroy the offending animal for safety reasons.
The unintentional feeding of bears is something that can easily be prevented. Trash bags should be placed in an outdoor bear-proof shed. Garbage should be put out for collection only on the morning of pick-up and no sooner. Food scraps that produce large amounts of odor should be sealed in several layers of plastic. Avoid putting food scraps in a compost pile during the summer months.
Pet owners should remove all outside pet food at night. Take down the bird feeders. Clean and store them until late fall.
These simple precautions will discourage bears from trying to find food around human habitation.
If you don't remove these attractants until after a bear has become a nuisance, you could be the one that caused the death of the animal. Following a few practical and/or common sense rules will reduce human-bear encounters.
The feeding of any game animal, not just black bears, should be avoided for other reasons. These include, but are not limited to: disease transmission, increased predation, habitat and private property destruction. Sportsmen and women need to be concerned about the health of all of the state's game population as a matter of ethics.
People who hunt and fish should be ready and willing to do their part to assure that West Virginia's wildlife stays wild.