Virginia is home to a healthy population of black bears – one of our biggest conservation success stories. Black bears are found almost everywhere throughout the Commonwealth, so it is common for people to live, work and play in bear country. It is incredibly important for people to learn the facts about black bears and to know what they can do to prevent conflicts. This way, we can make sure we keep bears wild and coexist for generations to come. To keep bears wild, what YOU do really matters.
A highly adaptable and intelligent animal, bears can live close to people. While local residents often do not know bears are living close by, some bears may wander into residential areas due to the smell of food around homes. The most common food attractants are birdfeeders, garbage, and pet food; however, outdoor grills, livestock food, compost, fruit trees, and beehives will also attract bears. With some simple steps, you can reduce the chances of bears making repeated visits to your neighborhood or property.
- Secure your garbage in bear resistant trash cans or store it in a secure building.
- Take down bird feeders if a bear is in the area.
- Don’t put meat scraps in your compost pile.
- Don’t leave pet food outdoors.
- Keep your grill clean.
- Make sure your neighbors are following the same recommendations.
- Install electric fencing, an inexpensive and extremely efficient proven deterrent to bears, around dumpsters, gardens, fruit trees, beehives, or other potential food sources.
- After a few failed attempts to find food around homes, bears will usually leave the area in search of natural wild foods.
In almost all cases, a black bear will detect you and leave the area before being noticed. However, if you do encounter a bear, here are some suggestions:
- Never run from a bear. Running could prompt the bear to chase. If in a group, stay together and make sure that your dog stays leashed.
- Enjoy and keep a respectful distance! If a bear is up a tree on or near your property, give it space. Do not approach, and bring your pets inside to provide the bear a clear path to leave your property.
- If the bear hasn’t seen you, calmly leave the area, while making a bit of noise so the bear will not be surprised by you.
- If the bear has seen you, back away slowly while facing the bear. Speaking softly may also let the bear know you mean no harm.
What do I do if I see a bear cub on my property?
- Until April/May, sows with cubs are typically in dens. Most small bears people see in early spring are not actual “baby bears” but yearlings (>12 months old). They do not need their mothers to survive.
- If a small yearling is on your property, the worst thing you can do is feed the bear. Yearlings need to learn how to find natural foods and not become food conditioned or habituated to humans.
- Once females leave their dens with 4 to 5 month-old cubs, they will typically travel in close groups unless something makes the female nervous. If you see a very small cub, do not try to remove it from the area or “save it.” When sensing danger, a female bear will typically send her cub(s) up a tree and leave the area. In such cases, the female will almost always return to gather up the cub(s) when no people or pets are around, usually after dark.
Preventing problems with bears is a shared responsibility between the citizens of Virginia and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Always remember that a bear is a wild animal, and that it is detrimental to the bear, as well as illegal in Virginia, to feed a bear under any circumstances. Even allowing a bear to feed on trash or birdseed is illegal. You can help manage the Commonwealth’s black bear population and Keep Bears Wild.
If you experience a bear problem after taking appropriate steps of prevention, please call the Wildlife Conflict Helpline at (855) 571-9003.
Please visit www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear to view videos, print a brochure, read more about bears in Virginia, and view other useful links to bear information.
Remember, if you live in Virginia, you live in bear country. Let’s work together to Keep Bears Wild!
To report wildlife crime call 1-800-237-5712.