|South Charleston, W.Va. - West Virginia residents are reminded 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 West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.|
"It is understandable that some people will illegally set out food so they can observe this often secretive animal," Carpenter says. "However, these actions often lead to the destruction of the bear. Bear movements are tied to food sources and animals that roam in and around residential areas in search of food are less likely to stay if they do not find anything to eat."
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. Multiple reports of sows with cubs have been received from the northern and western portions of the state.
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 late 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. Bears that have lost their fear of humans 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.
"The unintentional feeding of black bears is something that can be prevented," Carpenter says. "Garbage needs to be secured in a bear-proof facility and placed out for collection on the morning of pick-up, 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."
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.