Bear in mind

Published 8:53 pm Saturday, July 16, 2011

State wildlife officials say that area residents should not worry too much about the increase in the number of bear sightings in Suffolk this year. Just be careful around them and wait, and the bears will mosey along, they say.

Officials urge caution, patience with furry beasts

Bear sightings in Suffolk are on the increase this year, but state wildlife officials continue to say there’s no reason to worry.

Suffolk residents have spotted black bears at least three times in the past week, and sightings have been reported, especially along Nansemond Parkway, throughout the spring and summer.

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries biologist Aaron Proctor said it isn’t uncommon for bears to roam into suburban and urban areas of the city because so many bears call the Great Dismal Swamp home.

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Proctor, who works at a satellite office in Surry County, said his office has received more calls about bears this year than last, but he’s not sure what is causing the increase in sightings.

Last year, he said, the Surry office didn’t have to remove any bears from urban areas. But this year, he has already removed two — one from the oceanfront area in April and one from Route 164 in Portsmouth earlier this month.

Although the swamp offers 120,000 acres of prime habitat, he said, bears sometimes wander away in order to find their own territory or food or to track down mates.

But these roaming bears aren’t necessarily a cause for alarm, he said.

Bears tend to follow creeks or rivers to stay cool, but when they roam away from the water, they can end up in areas heavily populated by people.

“A lot of times people see bears in their neighborhood, and they think something needs to be done but not always,” he said.

Proctor said his office receives a lot of calls about bear sightings, but he only gets involved if the bear poses a threat to the public or to itself.

The game department removed the adult male black bear from Route 164 in Portsmouth last week, because the animal would have been unable to vacate the area without crossing several lanes of traffic, creating a safety concern for both the bear and the public.

However, when a bear cub was spotted in a tree at Rose of Sharon United Holiness Church Monday, Suffolk Animal Control determined it was not a threat and left it alone. The cub left without prompting later that day.

If you see a bear on your property, Proctor said, the best thing to do is leave it alone. He said black bears are fearful of humans, and you should never approach a bear or send a dog to seek it out.

To discourage bears from sticking around your home, be sure to keep trash secure in a garage, shed or basement and place it on the curb the morning of trash collection, rather than the night before.

Also, do not store food, household trash or anything that smells like food and could attract a bear on porches, decks or patios.

For more information on black bears, visit