With a healthy and growing black bear population, bear sightings during the spring and summer months are not unusual in Virginia. However, bears showing up in areas where they have not been seen before can cause quite a stir.
While the highest concentration of bears occur in the Blue Ridge and Alleghany Mountains and around the Great Dismal Swamp, bears are likely to be seen just about anywhere in Virginia. In a recent survey of DWR field staff, during the last 4 years bears have occurred in 85 of Virginia’s 98 counties/cities.
Late spring to early summer is the breeding season for the black bear. Adult males may roam well beyond their normal range searching for mates. Adult females breed every other year and give birth from mid-January to early February. Females that have raised cubs for the past 1½ years are ready to breed again, and the young are ready to be on their own and establish new home ranges. While young females generally establish a home range near that of their mother, young males may need to roam widely in order to establish a new home range.
Bears generally avoid humans, but they may wander into suburban areas. So, what should you do if you see a bear? The most important response is to keep a respectful distance. A black bear would rather flee than have an encounter with people. Always remember that a bear is a wild animal, and never, ever feed a bear under any circumstances. When bears lose their fear of people, trouble is not far away.
The best way to encourage a bear to move on is to remove the food source that is attracting it. Do this by cleaning up or removing trash, pet food, livestock feed, grills and bird feeders. Do not store household trash in vehicles or on porches or decks. Take your garbage to the dump frequently, and if you have a trash collection service, put your trash out the morning of the pickup, not the night before.
If you do see a bear in your area, enjoy watching it from a distance. Report any problems by calling the Department at (804) 367-1000 so that the information can be passed on to a Conservation Police Officer assigned to your area.
If a wild animal has been injured or truly orphaned, locate a licensed wildlife rehabilitator by calling the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources’ toll-free wildlife conflict helpline at 1-855-571-9003, 8:00AM-4:30PM, Monday through Friday or visit the licensed wildlife rehabilitator section of this website.