As Virginia's black bear population grows and expands, black bears are becoming an increasingly common sight across the Commonwealth. Additionally, human populations are also growing and spreading across most areas of Virginia.
You Can Prevent Nuisance Bear Problems
Bears are attracted to residential areas by the smell of food around homes. If addressed quickly, problems are often resolved immediately. After a few failed attempts to find food, bears will usually leave the area and return to more normal wild food items.
Black bears have a natural fear of humans, are shy, and usually avoid people. However, bears habituated to humans by being provided a regular food source can cause property damage, lose their fear of humans and have to be destroyed. You can avoid this by doing the following:
- Secure your garbage: Store garbage indoors, in a shed, in a garage, or in a bear-proof container. Instructions on how to build a bear-proof garbage bin (PDF) are available.
- Put garbage out in the morning of pickup, not the night before.
- Take trash to the dump frequently.
- Pick up pet food: Feed pets only what they will eat in a single feeding or feed them indoors. Remove the food bowl soon after pets finish. Pick up uneaten food. Do not leave food out over night.
- Remove the bird feeder: Bears consume seeds and nuts found in the wild, so bird feeders become a favored target for bears.
- Clean the outdoor grill often.
- Do not put meat scraps or any other strong-smelling food in the compost pile. Consider an enclosed compost bin.
- Pick up and remove ripe fruit from fruit trees and surrounding grounds.
- Install electric fencing to protect beehives, dumpsters, gardens, compost piles, or other potential food sources.
- Talk to your neighbors: Make sure your neighbors and community are aware of the ways to prevent nuisance bear problems.
Answers to Commonly Asked Questions
- Under most circumstances, Department staff will not trap and relocate a bear from your property. Most conflicts do not warrant trapping; a bear simply being in a neighborhood is not considered a threat or cause for trapping.
- In most cases, it is a people problem. Removal of the attractants on your property will solve the problem, without having to destroy the bear.
- There are no places left in which to relocate bears every time there is a sighting. Relocated bears will often return to the place where they were captured.
If a bear is on or near your property, do not escalate the situation by approaching, crowding around, or chasing the bear. This also applies to bears that have climbed up a tree. The best thing you can do is leave it alone. Because bears are naturally afraid of humans, a bear that feels cornered will be looking for an escape route. By keeping people and pets away from the bear, you give it the best chance to come down from the tree and leave your property on its own. Bears generally avoid humans, but in their search for food, they may wander into suburban areas. The most important response is to keep a respectful distance.
If you see a bear cub in an area do not try to remove it from the area or "save it". Female bears will wander to find food usually with her cubs in tow. If she feels nervous she will typically send her cubs up a tree and can leave the area. The mother bear will leave the cubs there until she returns and calls for them. Bear cubs left where they are will almost always be retrieved by their mother as long as there are no people or pets around.
If you experience a bear problem after taking appropriate steps of prevention, you may seek additional assistance by contacting VDGIF or local law enforcement.
How You Can Learn More About Bears in Virginia
Living with Bears in Virginia, a video produced by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, provides tips for peacefully coexisting with bears. Please visit the Department's black bear website to view the video, print a brochure, read more about bears in Virginia, and view other useful links to bear information.
Learn more about living with black bears in Virginia:
- Living in Bear Country
- Problem Bears in Agriculture
- Urban Black Bear Problems
- Electric Fencing for Black Bears (PDF)
The Department's Role
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) has established nuisance bear guidelines that promote public safety, protect property, and conserve bear populations. Whenever possible, the Department's approach to managing problem bears encourages the coexistence of bears and humans. The specific response to nuisance bear problems is determined by public concerns, public safety, type and extent of damage, black bear biology, animal welfare, and available control methods.
When you call the Department, an employee will discuss the problem with you. In most cases, a telephone call will be all that is necessary to find successful solutions (usually the removal of attractants). At times, a Department employee may visit your property to discuss additional options.
Please follow this link for Bear Smart Community Guidelines (PDF).