The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources reminds residents that feeding black bears is a violation of state law as well as a misguided disservice to our state animal, according to Colin Carpenter, black bear project leader for the DNR Wildlife Resources Section.
“It is understandable that some people will illegally set out food so they can get a closer look at this often-secretive animal,” Carpenter said. “However, these actions often lead to the destruction of the bear. Bear movements are tied to food sources. Bears that roam in and around residential areas in search of food are less likely to stay if they do not find anything to eat. The key to avoiding human-bear conflicts is to remove or secure food attractants before a bear finds them.”
Capturing and moving bears that have become accustomed to humans is a costly and often ineffective way of addressing the problem, especially when faced with the possibility of merely moving a problem bear from one area to another. That is why wildlife agencies around the country tell people that a “fed bear is a dead bear.”
Bear populations have increased in both number and distribution in the past 20 years. Bears are now found in areas where they have been absent for decades, and have been reported in all 55 counties.
Human-bear interactions increase during the spring and summer for several reasons. Natural food sources are at their lowest point when bears leave their dens in the spring. Bears often spend several weeks feeding on green vegetation while continuing to lose weight. High-energy foods such as serviceberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries do not become available until later in the summer. In addition, the bear breeding season, which peaks from mid – June through July, puts many bears on the move. During the breeding season, males will cover large areas while searching for females. This is also the time of year when adult female bears will chase off their yearlings so that they may breed again.
Human-related food sources are higher in calories and easier to obtain than natural foods. All bears, especially yearlings that are on their own for the first time, will take advantage of easy food sources. Bears will continue on their way if they do not find easy food sources.
Bears quickly become habituated to handouts in the form of trash, bird seed, pet food and feed placed out for other animals, and lose their fear of humans. These bears resort to raiding garbage, outdoor freezers, storage sheds, vehicles and other structures associated with people. Unfortunately, when these activities are repeated, DNR personnel are forced to humanely destroy the offending animal for safety reasons.
“There is simply nowhere to move bears that have become a problem,” Carpenter said.
“We radio-collared black bears in and around the cities of Beckley, Charleston and Morgantown, and found that these bears are resident animals that spend most of their time within 3 miles of these cities. Therefore, unintentional feeding of black bears is something that needs to be prevented,” Carpenter said.
“Garbage should be secured in a bear-proof facility and placed out for collection on the morning of pickup, not the night before. Food scraps that produce large amounts of odor should be sealed in a plastic bag before being placed in the trash. Food scraps should not be placed in a compost pile during the summer months. Residents should remove all outside pet food at night and bird feeders should be taken down, cleaned, and stored until late fall to further discourage bears from feeding around human habitation. If you do not remove food attractants until after a bear has become a nuisance, you will have caused the death of that animal.”
Feeding of any wildlife should be avoided for numerous reasons, including, but not limited to, disease transmission, increased predation, habitat destruction around the feeding site, ethical concerns and the animal’s overall health.
“Following these practical and common sense recommendations will reduce human-bear conflicts and assure that more of the state’s animals remain wild,” Carpenter said.
Pictured above is West Virginia’s state animal, the black bear. Photo courtesy of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.