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D.C. region no stranger to black bear sightings

Friday - 7/8/2011, 1:37pm  ET

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Black bear sightings aren't uncommon in the area. (AP/US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Michelle Basch, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - There have been numerous black bear sightings around the region recently, ranging from Fairfax County and Leesburg in Virginia to Frederick, Md.

But wildlife experts say it's nothing to be concerned about.

"We get sightings of bears every year about this time," says Laura Rizer with Loudoun County Animal Services.

Rizer says this is the time of year when 1 1/2- to 2-year-old cubs leave the den for the first time, and mother bears start looking to breed again.

Julia Dixon with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries says the black bear population in the commonwealth has increased in recent years, but both Dixon and Rizer say they're getting fewer calls about bears this year compared to years past.

"Bears are very motivated by their stomachs," Dixon says.

Things people can do to deter bears include keeping pet food inside and putting trash out in the morning for pickup instead of the night before.

Another thing that can attract bears is a barbecue grill.

"That's one of the things that people really don't think about, but that smell and that little grease on the grill and the drippings and all that -- that's delicious if you're a bear," Rizer says.

Feeding black bears in Virginia is a Class 3 misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to a $500 fine. Dixon says officials "don't want bears associating food with people."

If you do see a bear, Dixon advises to stay inside, and to keep dogs inside as well if you have them. Also, don't chase or provoke the bear, and if you suddenly come upon one outside, Dixon says you should slowly back away and get indoors.

A bear was reportedly seen recently near Rock Creek in Montgomery County, but Bill Line with the National Park Service says there have been no recent reports of bears in the D.C. portion of Rock Creek Park.

For more tips about living with black bears, click here.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)