The bear necessities in Suffolk

Published 9:56 pm Friday, July 19, 2019

Suffolk resident Albert Williams had a surprising encounter on July 15 that he called me about.

Williams, who lives in Berkshire Meadows, was walking his dog near the back of the Food Lion shopping center on Godwin Boulevard, when he saw a black bear near the back of the shopping center.

“I saw a big bear,” Williams said. “It was huge.” He reported it to the police, and they said they had a few calls about it, Williams said.

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It’s always a good time to remind folks that, while Suffolk seems quite urban and increasingly so, much of the city is still rural.

Black bears are commonly sighted in Suffolk, especially from mid-June to mid-July, which is the prime breeding season, according to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The mating season can even extend into August. Summer is also the time when yearlings are sent to begin fending for themselves, and the growing bears seek easy sources of food. Access to human-related food sources can lead to the bears being spotted by humans more and sometimes to cause trouble.

Bears are very adaptable to many environments and can be spotted in neighborhoods close to their natural habitat, such as the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and other wooded areas.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries gives the following tips on living near bears:

  • If you see a bear, enjoy and keep a respectful distance. In most cases, the bear will move on quickly.
  • If a bear is up a tree on or near your property, give it space. Do not approach, and bring your pets inside to provide the bear a clear path to leave your property. Never run from a bear.
  • Do not store household trash, or anything that smells like food, in vehicles, on porches or on decks.
  • Keep your trash containers secured in a garage, shed or basement at all times, even when empty.
  • Put your trash out the morning of the pickup, not the night before.
  • It is best not to put out birdfeeders between April 1 and Nov. 1, but if you do and a bear accesses the feed, take down your birdfeeder for at least three to four weeks.
  • Consider installing electric fencing, an inexpensive and extremely efficient proven deterrent to bears, around dumpsters, gardens, fruit trees, beehives, or other potential food sources.
  • If addressed quickly, accidental feeding of bears can be resolved almost immediately after you remove the food source. Sometimes, the bear may return searching for food, but after a few failed attempts to find it, will leave your property.
  • If a small yearling is on your property, the worst thing you can do is feed it. Yearlings need to learn how to find natural foods and not become food conditioned or habituated to humans.
  • Once females leave their dens with 4- to 5-month-old cubs, they will typically travel in close groups unless something makes the female nervous. If you see a very small cub, do not try to remove it from the area or “save it.” When sensing danger, a female bear will typically send her cub(s) up a tree and leave the area. In such cases, the female will almost always return to gather up the cub(s) when no people or pets are around, usually after dark.

Always remember that a bear is a wild animal, and that it is detrimental to the bear, as well as illegal in Virginia, to feed a bear under any circumstances. Even allowing a bear to feed on trash or birdseed is illegal. Feeding bears may cause them to lose their natural distrust of humans, creating situations where bears may become habituated and sometimes aggressive towards people.

If you experience a bear problem after taking appropriate steps of prevention, call the Wildlife Conflict Helpline at 855-571-9003.

Please visit to view videos, print a brochure, read more about bears in Virginia, and view other useful links to bear information.

To report wildlife crime, call 1-800-237-5712.