The Division of Natural Resources cautions all West Virginia residents that feeding black bears is a violation of state law, as well as a misguided disservice to the state animal, according to Christopher Ryan, black bear project leader for the Wildlife Resources Section.
"It is understandable that some people will illegally set out food to get a glimpse of this magnificent animal," Ryan said. "However, too often these actions regrettably result in the death of the bear. Bears that wander near residential areas in search of food are less likely to stay if they do not find anything to eat."
Capturing and moving bears that have become accustomed to humans is a costly and sometimes ineffective way of addressing the problem, especially when faced with the possibility of merely moving a problem bear from one area to another. That's why wildlife agencies around the country tell people that a "fed bear is a dead bear."
Bear populations have increased and expanded across the state in the past 10 years.
"We have been receiving numerous calls concerning bear sightings from areas that have not had bears in the recent past," Ryan said. "Bears have been reported in all 55 counties and we have received many reports of sows with cubs in the northern and western portion of the state."
Bears have long breeding seasons that may last from May through September. However, the peak of breeding season is late June through July. Adult male bears may cover large tracts of land in search of females.
In addition, this is the time of the year when adult female bears will chase off their yearling so that they may breed again. These youngsters are often on their own for the first time and will be looking for easy food sources. Bears will continue on their way if they do not find food sources to attract them.
Bears often become used to handouts in the form of bird seed, trash and pet food, and they lose their fear of humans. When bears lose this fear, they resort to raiding garbage, outdoor freezers and other food sources associated with people. Unfortunately, if these activities are repeated, Natural Resources personnel are forced to humanely destroy the offender for safely reasons.
"Unintentional feeding of black bears is a major concern to the DNR," Ryan said. "People need to secure garbage in bear-proof facilities and place trash out for collection on the morning of pick-up, not the night before. Residents should remove all outside pet food at night. Bird feeders should be taken down, cleaned and stored until late fall to further discourage feeding around human habitation."
Feeding of any wildlife should be avoided for numerous reasons, including disease transmission, increased predation, habitat destruction around the feeding site and the animals' overall health.