Bear season arrives

Published 9:23 pm Friday, May 25, 2012

A black bear strolls across a Chuckatuck driveway last July.

Chuckatuck’s William “Willie” Creekmore had to look twice last July when, while in his swimming pool, he saw a black bear crossing the yard.

“I was swimming in my pool when I saw the bear walking,” said Creekmore, who lives next to Godwin’s Millpond.

“He was walking over near my fruit trees. I had to do a double-take and I got out of the swimming pool and went to the garage. By the time I got back, he was right up the front of the house, walking across my driveway.

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“I had to capture him on film, else no one would have believed me.”

Creekmore’s bear — or one of its friends — may have returned to the area after a reported bear sighting near Chuckatuck on Cherry Grove Road on May 20.

It’s bear season, and with a healthy, growing population of them around the Great Dismal Swamp, authorities are offering advice to residents.

“During the months of April and May, bears have left their dens and are ending their winter fast, although this year due to a mild winter and early spring conditions, bears may already be active,” a press release from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries stated.

Department District Wildlife Biologist Aaron Proctor said, “Bears are searching for mates, and there’s a much higher likelihood they’ll end up in neighborhoods and urban environments near people.”

Female mother bears kick out the father of their previous litter before finding a new love interest, he said.

“Those (male) bears often end up becoming a problem for some people,” he said.

Though he is yet to be called this year about a bear in Suffolk, Proctor said people new to the area are prone to panicking when they see a bear in any circumstance.

“I worry more about poison ivy and ticks than about getting attacked by a bear,” he said. The department says a black bear’s diet is 80 percent vegetation and only 20 percent protein. The protein is from common sources like insects and carrion.

“Biologically speaking, a raccoon has the same diet a black bear has,” Proctor said. “Black bears are not aggressive, predatory animals like brown bears out in the West.”

To avoid issues with bears, he advises residents to not use bird feeders or leave pet food outside, and to remove trash from around the house.

“In five years, I have had to deal with four bear removals in Hampton Roads,” he said.

The department release says the best way to deal with a black bear is to keep a respectful distance.

“Black bears have a natural distrust of humans, and in most cases would rather flee than have an encounter with people.”

Creekmore, a Chuckatuck resident since 1972, said his only other bear encounter was while fishing.

“I smelled a bear one time while I was fishing in the lake,” he said. “The wind was blowing from him to me, and you could see the brush moving.”

Tips for living with bears are at www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear. After taking appropriate preventative steps, call 804-367-1000 to report a bear problem.