The Sad Fate of Baby Bear

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By Leslie Burns

A few weeks ago a bear cub was attracting a lot of attention in Old Trail and along Jarmans Gap Road. Conversations and blogs circulated word-of-mouth reports that a yearling cub was wandering through yards and being fed by construction workers.

It was sort of exciting—as a newcomer to this area—to hear about the presence of an original Blue Ridge native. But the news quickly turned south. Later came information that the cub had been shot by local game and hunting authorities.

I heard others raise the same question that crossed my mind: couldn’t this cub have been relocated? Who decided how this cub should be dealt with, and what happens when humans and bears share a habitat? What can we do in Crozet to ensure the safety of these large furry neighbors of ours? How do we avoid this unhappy ending in the future?

I spoke with Jaime Sajeki, who is the Black Bear Project Leader with the Wildlife Division of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries in Richmond and she had some good information to share with all of us.

Sajeki was aware of the death of this yearling cub. She said that in most cases there is an effort to relocate these bears, but relocation does not always guarantee a happy ending. Once moved, cubs often try to return to home, which may require dangerous highway and road crossings. Older male bears may kill the younger bears when they are dropped into their territories; a male bear usually claims about 15 square miles as his turf. In the Crozet yearling case, the person in charge of our region decided to put the cub down. The cub may have become too reliant on human food sources to be a good candidate for relocation.

This is not the first time that a local community has had close encounters of the bear kind. Wintergreen had a real problem in 2007. Local bears were breaking into homes and ransacking kitchens, sometimes while the owners were present. Nine bears were moved or put down in the process of solving this problem. Sajeki said that once the bears become used to finding food outside of their natural sources, “untraining” them is very difficult, if not impossible.

Sarah and Robert Scott started the Wintergreen Bear Smart Program after reading the book Living With Bears: A Practical Guide to Bear Country by Linda Masterson. Since 2007 the number of bear incidents in Wintergreen has dropped by over 80 percent, while those resulting in damage to homes and property have decreased by over 90 percent.

The steps followed by the Wintergreen community were:

• Report any bear activity immediately to authorities (Virginia Game and Fisheries).

• Ban bird feeding from April 1 until December 1.

• Secure outdoor garbage cans and request bear-proof containers for public spaces.

• Provide garbage management and bear literature for incoming residents.

• Educate kids and neighbors that feeding bears is as good as a serving a death warrant to these animals. Ask your children’s teachers and school administrators to help educate our kids at school on bear protection.

You can find other tips and guidelines by watching a video, “Living With Black Bears” in Virginia online at www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear.