Around 1955, a group of students, teachers, and sportsmen took part in a poll held by the Division of Natural Resources. From this poll it was determined that the black bear would be West Virginia’s state animal. Even though this was officially the case, many residents of West Virginia go their entire lives without ever seeing one. Many areas, up until recently, were believed to not even have any black bears.
That was then, and this is now. In the past ten years the black bear population in West Virginia has been booming. Every single of the 55 counties have reported sightings of the state animal and it seems they are becoming rather common. As wonderful as this might be for the mountain state, it also poses a serious problem. Officials are concerned that with the rise in numbers of black bears there will be a human safety issue.
The West Virginia Department of Natural Resources has issued a press release warning residents of the state to please not feed the bears. It is tempting to want to set out some food to try and get a glimpse of this amazing animal, but once bears get fed once, they will keep coming back for more. Even when they are fed unintentionally by picking through unsecured garbage cans, scavenging pet foods, and raiding bird feeders, the bears lose their fear of humans and become bolder. Wildlife agencies from throughout the state have a motto, “A fed bear is a dead bear.”
Christopher Ryan, the black bear project leader for the DNR Wildlife Resources Section, said, “We have been receiving numerous calls concerning bear sightings from areas that have not had bears in the recent past. Bears have been reported in all 55 counties and we have received many reports of sows with cubs in the northern and western portion of the state.”
There are many reasons not to feed bears and other wildlife, besides the fact that it is against the law. Several diseases may be transmitted in this way, as well as increased predation and habitat destruction around the feeding site. Black bears can typically weigh up to 300 pounds, can swim and climb trees proficiently, and are omnivores (consumes both vegetation and meat). Summer is their breeding season; therefore many males are out and about trying to locate a female in which to mate.
If a bear is continually fed (intentionally or unintentionally) and loses its fear of humans, the DNR is often forced to humanely destroy the bear in question. “Unintentional feeding of black bears is a major concern to the DNR,” Ryan says. “People need to secure garbage in bear-proof facilities and place trash out for collection on the morning of pick-up, not the night before. 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 feeding around human habitation.”
WV DNR Press Release. URL: (http://www.wvdnr.gov/2007news/07news105.shtm)