Virginia is home to an estimated 17,000 black bears and they can be found in nearly every county in the Commonwealth. As strange as it may seem, it is not uncommon to come in contact with a bear during the fall. This time of year, black bears will begin foraging for food to prepare for winter hibernation, and unfortunately, their preparation efforts can sometimes lead them into residential areas.
Black bears are clever animals, so here are some tips on how you can protect yourself and your family from them.
- Keep garbage inside. Garbage cans outside can serve as the perfect hunting ground for bears. Keep your garbage inside until it can be disposed of properly. Also, make sure that your outdoor bins are properly cleaned and sealed.
- Keep your barbecue grills clean and covered. It is best to clean your grill after every use.
- Don’t forget about your car! Avoid leaving food in your vehicle. Bears can get into them as well.
- Avoid Birdfeeders. Virginia’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) recommends that no one use birdfeeders in their yards from April 1 to December 1.
- Lock up. Close all first floor windows (or windows accessible from a deck) every evening or when leaving the house. Remember to secure your doors well.
If you do spot a bear, do not feed or approach the animal. Also, make sure that any pets that you may have are inside the home. If you happen to encounter a bear, slowly back away from it. Any fast movements will surprise the bear and it will become aggressive and chase you. If you do find yourself in a situation where a bear is charging at or approaching you, your best option is to stand your ground. If a bear comes in contact with you, your best option is to “play dead.” However, you should only play dead if the bear makes contact with you. Playing dead too early can cause the bear to become curious or aggressive and want to make more contact with you.
If you experience a bear problem after taking appropriate steps of determent, please call the Wildlife Conflict Helpline at (855) 571-9003.
 Virginia Dept. of Game & Inland Fisheries, http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear/becoming-bear-aware/