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Becoming Bear Aware!

With a healthy black bear population, bear sightings are common throughout much of Virginia. 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.

What should you do if you see a bear?

  • Enjoy and keep a respectful distance! In most cases, the bear will move on quickly.
  • 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. Never run from a bear.

What should you do if a bear is consuming bird seed, garbage, pet food, etc. on your property?

  • The best way to encourage the bear not to return is to remove the food source.
  • Do not store household trash, or anything that smells like food, in vehicles, on porches or decks.
  • Use bear resistant trash containers or retrofit your existing container.
  • Keep your full or empty trash containers secured in a garage, shed or basement.
  • Take your garbage to the dump frequently or if you have a trash collection service, put your trash out the morning of the pickup, not the night before.
  • It is best not to put out birdfeeders between April 1 and November 1, but if you do and a bear accesses the feed, you must take down your birdfeeder for 3-4 weeks after the bear visits.
  • Consider installing electric fencing, an inexpensive and extremely efficient proven deterrent to bears, around dumpsters, gardens, fruit trees, beehives, or other potential food sources.
  • If addressed quickly, this situation can be resolved almost immediately after you remove the food source. Sometimes, the bear may return searching for food, but after a few failed attempts to find it, will leave your property.

What do I do if I see a bear cub on my property?

  • Until mid March–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 it. Yearlings need to learn how to find natural foods and not become food conditioned or habituated to humans.
  • Once females leave their dens with 3 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. She is attempting to divert the danger away from her cub(s). These trees are called “babysitter trees”. 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. A female bear can be up to 4 miles away from the cub while it is at the “babysitter tree”.

Preventing problems with bears is a shared responsibility between the citizens of Virginia and the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR). 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. Feeding bears may cause them to lose their natural distrust of humans, creating situations where bears may become habituated and sometimes aggressive towards people. Thus, human and bear safety is the responsibility of all residents and visitors of the Commonwealth.

You can help manage the Commonwealth’s black bear population and Keep Bears Wild. Make sure your property is clear of attractants, communicate with your neighbors to resolve community bear concerns, and learn about bears, one of the most amazing intelligent wildlife species in Virginia. If you visit outdoor recreation areas in bear country, insist that the area supervisors manage their trash properly.

If you experience a bear problem after taking appropriate steps of prevention, please call the Wildlife Conflict Helpline at (855) 571-9003.

Please visit DWR’s Black Bear page 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.