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Keep Wintergreen Wild
Black bears are highly intelligent animals with an incredible sense of smell. They can smell potential food sources over great distances. They are opportunists, always looking for easy calories. This often leads hungry bears to dumpsters, garbage cans, or kitchens. When bears learn that garbage means food, they come back to it again and again, learning to associate humans and homes with food.
Garbage is unhealthy for bears. Their natural diet consists of berries, vegetation, roots, insects, grubs, mast (edible seed or fruit produced by trees and shrubs), and carrion. Garbage can cause injuries such as cuts and ingestion of harmful plastics, glass, or chemicals, as well as changing their natural behavior around people.
Once a bear is conditioned to eat garbage and other unnatural foods, the solutions all too often are fatal to the bear. Relocation can be unsuccessful, dangerous, and expensive, leaving an unfortunate solution of killing the “problem” bear.
One of the reasons bears and people come into contact at Wintergreen is improper care of garbage and other attractants such as bird feeders. Bears will not change their tendency to seek out easy meals so we must change our behavior. Make it your responsibility to make Wintergreen safer for human and bear residents.
If a bear is threatening, persistent, or aggressive call Wintergreen police at 434-325-8520.
For emergencies call 911.
About Bears Around The House
Properly storing or securing residential garbage and other bear attractants is a proven method for discouraging bears and preventing nuisance problems around homes.
The following items attract bears:
• garbage cans
• pet food
• compost piles
• bird feeders
• wildlife feeders
• BBQ grills
• petroleum products
• fruit/nut trees
• perfumed items (soap, suntan lotion, deodorant, etc)
Garbage– Store garbage inside until you are able to properly dispose of it. Ensure bins are properly sealed. Wash and clean cans, jars, and recycling where appropriate. Do not throw cooking oil or grease outside.
Compost – Use a proper compost bin. Turn your compost regularly; cover compost with leaves, lime, and soil to reduce odors. Don not put meat, fish, fat, oils, eggshells, or cooked food in your compost.
Yards and Property – Follow these guidelines to keep bears from becoming a problem around your home.
• Virginia’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries strongly recommends that no one feed birds from April 1 to December 1. If a bear visits your birdfeeder during the winter months, remove the feeder for at least 2 weeks. If the bear visits your feeder again after removing the feeder, remove the birdfeeder permanently.
• Clean barbecues after use. Cover and store indoors. (Do NOT take propane tanks indoors.)
• Never leave garbage bags, regardless of content, in your yard.
• Lock your car doors. Bears can open the doors. Never leave garbage bags or any other food sources in your car.
• Don’t store food in outdoor freezers.
• Don’t leave coolers or other items that may contain food smells in your yard.
• Keep first floor windows and windows accessible from decks shut.
Step 1. Bear-proof your home…
Garbage – Keep garbage in the house, garage, shed until it can be taken to the dumpsters.
Bird Food – Do not feed birds from April 1 to December 1. If a bear visits your birdfeeder during the winter months, remove the feeder for at least 2 weeks. If after the two-week period of time, the bear visits your feeder again, remove the birdfeeder permanently. Keep ground free from seeds. Store extra bird food indoors.
Barbeque – Burn off the grill after each use and store in a secure area.
Pet Food – Bring pet dishes inside and clean up any spillage. Store pet food indoors.
Windows and doors – Close all first floor windows every evening or when leaving the house. Close any windows accessible from a deck every evening or when leaving the house. Secure your doors well.
Step 2. If you see a bear at your home…
Stay Calm. Remain calm and don’t panic. Often the bear is simply looking for food and will move on if it finds nothing to eat.
Keep Away. Keep away from the bear and go inside and bring children and pets indoors. Shut all accessible windows.
Don’t Approach. Never approach the bear and do not run away. Don’t act submissively by crouching down or whispering.
Warn Others. Warn others of the bear’s presence, without yelling.
If the bear climbs a tree… If the bear climbs a tree, keep people and pets away. When things quiet down the bear will come down and leave. Once the bear is safely out of the area, check the area to ensure there are no attractants available.
Learn about eMammel Wildlife Camera Tracking research at The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen. [Click here]
About Bears When hiking
Do not surprise a black bear:
• Hike in a group, most bears will leave an area once aware of your presence
• Stay on established hiking trails and hike during daylight
• Keep children close and within sight
• Use extra caution when hiking near rushing water, into the wind or in the rain. A bear may not be able to hear or smell you coming.
Be alert! – Watch for signs such as tracks, droppings, diggings, torn-up logs and scratched trees, which may indicate a bear is nearby.
Use caution near natural bear foods – Blueberries, fruit trees, and dead animals are examples of food sources. If you come upon these items, use caution.
Dog safety – Your dog should be on a leash and never left unattended.
Watch for cubs – Bears become aggressive if they feel their young are threatened. Never get between a mother and her cubs.
Cyclists! – Your speed and quietness can put you at risk for sudden bear encounters. Slow down through shrubbed areas and when approaching blind curves. Be alert and always look ahead.
If You Encounter a Bear while Hiking
Despite taking precautions, an encounter with a bear may occur. Remember that bears are complex intelligent animals and no two encounters are alike. Below are a few guidelines that can minimize your risk in bear encounter.
Stay calm – Think ahead and plan how to respond if you should encounter a bear.
Don’t run – A black bear can easily outrun you. Running may also trigger an attack response. Pickup small children and stay in a group to make yourself less vulnerable.
Leave the area or make a wide detour – If you cannot leave, wait until the bear moves out of the way and ensure the bear has an escape route.
The bear may approach or rear up on its hind legs – Bears are curious and is most likely trying to catch your scent. This is not necessarily a sign of aggression. Back away slowly.
Don’t drop objects, clothing, or food to distract the bear – Rewarding a bear for aggressive behavior will increase the likelihood that it will repeat that behavior.
Watch for aggressive behaviors – A bear may display aggression in the following ways: swing it’s head from side to side, making vocalizations such as huffs, snorts, whoops or moans, displaying teeth or claws, jaw popping, swatting at the ground, staring with eye contact, panting, or laying it’s ears back. These behaviors indicate the bear is stressed, acting defensively, and/or asking for more space. This is the most common kind of black bear aggressive encounter.
For more information
• Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has an entire section of their website devoted to black bear biology and management practices, including a 20-minute video entitled Living with Black Bears in Virginia. Click to visit the DGIF website.
• Good resource: The book Living with Bears: A Practical Guide to Bear Country by Linda Masterson, 2006.
Read the December 2010 feature article about Wintergreen’s Bear Smart program. [PDF]