WASHINGTON - Beware of the bears: It's that time of year when more bears roam closer to humans.
That's because mother bears chase away juvenile bears to find new territories to call their own during the months of May and June.
"Essentially what we have are a bunch of bears running around that don't know yet that it's best to stay away from people," says Harry Spiker, black bear project leader with Maryland's Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife and Heritage Service.
Spiker says the bear population is growing in Maryland.
"Picture our bear population as a wave moving across Maryland, from the west in Garrett County to the east. They're really just starting to pop up regularly in Montgomery County," he says.
In Virginia, however, the black bear population has leveled off in the last five years due to expanded hunting efforts, says black bear project leader Jaime L. Sajecki of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
Some areas of Virginia are seeing an increase in bears, "but most areas with our highest bear densities have stable populations," Sajecki says.
There hasn't been an unprovoked bear attack on a person in Maryland or Virginia, according to officials in each state, but both states consider it a priority to manage black bear populations and to keep wild bears in the wild.
"In developed or residential areas, problems often center on damage to bird feeders, scavenging garbage cans, feeding on pet food, foraging at garbage dumps, automobile accidents and simple public sightings. Agricultural problems include destruction of beehives, destroying crops (corn, fruit trees), feeding on grain at livestock feeders, damage to trees and killing of livestock," the Virginia Bear Management Plan details.
When it comes to bears on the road, an increase in traffic and an expansion of bear territory are both contributing factors to accidents.
Virginia averages a minimum of 30 bear-car collisions a year; it's unclear how many accidents go unreported. Spiker says about 50 bears get hit on Maryland roads each year.
As cute as bears appear on the big screen and on toy-store shelves, bears should be given space. In Maryland and Virginia, it's against the law to feed bears.
"Show them due respect; back off and make sure they have an escape route," says Spiker, who also warns not to take a picture. "I find when people get behind a camera, they tend to lose common sense and get a little too close."
Don't attract bears. Tips for keeping them away:
- Secure your garbage
- Keep barbecue grills clean
- Don't keep pet food outside
- Wash garbage cans regularly to reduce odors
- Keep meat scraps frozen until garbage pick-up day
- Remove bird feeders entirely in the spring, or bring them in at night
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