You may be sleeping in and sticking closer to home these days, but for bears in Virginia, it’s time to end their hibernation and start doing the things that bears do.
Bear sightings are not common in Fairfax County, but there are usually a few bears spotted each spring and summer as they wander into residential areas in search for food.
Black bears and cubs emerge from their winter dens in the state from March through May. They usually try to avoid humans, but the aroma of your food may be too hard to resist. Bears may be drawn your bird feeders, garbage, outdoor pet food, compost piles, fruit trees, beehives and berry-producing shrubs.
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Fairfax County wildlife management specialist recommend the following simple steps to reduce your chances of encountering a black bear in your neighborhood:
- Secure your garbage in bear-resistant trash cans or store it in a secure building.
- If you have trash collection service, put your trash out the morning of the pickup, not the night before.
- Do not store household trash, or anything that smells like food, in vehicles or on porches or decks.
- Remove bird feeders if a bear is in the area and keep them down for 3-4 weeks. Birdfeeders are a common lure for bears in Fairfax County.
- Keep your grill clean. Do not dump drippings in your yard.
- Don’t put meat scraps in your compost pile.
- Don’t leave pet food outdoors.
- Make sure your neighbors are following the same recommendations.
Black bears usually detect you and move on before you ever see them, but if you do encounter a bear, heed these suggestions from officials:
- Respect the bear’s space. If you see a bear, enjoy watching from a distance.
- Never run from a bear. Running could prompt the bear to chase. If in a group, stay together and make sure that any dogs stay leashed.
- 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.
- If the bear hasn’t seen you, calmly leave the area, while making a bit of noise so the bear will not be surprised by you.
- If the bear has seen you, back away slowly while facing the bear.
- If a bear huffs or “woofs,” clacks its teeth, growls or slaps the ground, it is warning you that you are too close.
- Never feed a bear under any circumstances. In Virginia, it is illegal to feed bears on both public and private lands.
Report your bear sightings to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries through the Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline at 855-571-9003, TTY 711. Unless the animal is sick or injured, or poses a threat to public safety, the Fairfax County Animal Protection Police do not take actions to remove bears from a neighborhood. Black bears have a natural fear of humans, and in most cases, would rather flee than encounter people.