Watch out for the bears

Published 5:02 pm Saturday, February 16, 2013

With a couple of inches of snow expected to blanket Suffolk this morning, it might be hard for residents to imagine that spring is just around the corner. But Suffolk’s bears know the seasons are changing, and folks in the city would do well to prepare themselves for the inevitable encounters between man and beast that occur as the bears become more active.

A resident of a home in the Hollywood community awoke on Thursday to find damage to a vehicle that a bear had tried to enter in search of food the previous evening, city officials said, and longtime Suffolk residents have grown accustomed to reports of bears lurking in back yards and in trees, even in relatively well-populated parts of the city.

Bears are intelligent and can learn to associated human dwellings with food, and they are persistent when they believe they have found a source of that food, whether in trash cans or in locked cars. And as the Hollywood resident learned, bears can cause significant damage in their quest for food.

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Several years ago, my wife and took a trip out west to see some of America’s great national parks. While planning one leg of the journey online, I came across a website warning about the bears at Yosemite National Park, and I spent some time watching videos of bears tearing apart vehicles to get to the food that people had left inside them.

When I showed the videos to my wife, she pointed out that we were driving what was then a new pickup truck — hers, it’s important to note — and the bed was full of coolers and camping equipment that we’d have no place to stow if we camped in that park. With visions of her new truck being mauled as we cowered nearby in a nylon tent, she quickly and decisively put an end to any thought of camping at Yosemite.

Later in the trip, we visited Yellowstone National Park, where we watched from a safe distance as a grizzly bear hunted a young elk, while the mother elk frantically tried to distract the huge bear. Dozens of cars lined the sides of the road, and there were scores of people watching the drama unfold, and I can attest from that experience that bears have a singular determination when it comes to food.

We don’t have grizzlies to worry about here in Southeast Virginia, but our black bears are similarly determined. City officials offered a few suggestions to help minimize the chances that your car or home will end up a spring bear statistic:

  • Store garbage indoors, in a shed, in a garage or in a bear-proof container, and put it out the morning of its scheduled pick-up rather than the night before.
  • Feed pets indoors or remove the food bowl after feeding a pet outdoors. Do not leave food out overnight.
  • Remove bird feeders, because bears are attracted to them.
  • Clean outdoor grills often.
  • Do not put meat scraps or other strong-smelling food in the compost pile.
  • Do not leave food in your vehicle
  • Pick up and remove ripe fruit from fruit trees and the surrounding ground.

One of the wonderful things about Suffolk is its wildlife. But that wildlife can be frightening if it’s tearing up your car in search of leftover French fries. Take the simple steps to help ensure you and your property are safe this spring.