BUCKHANNON — In recognition of National Wilderness Month, West Virginia Natural Resources Police Sgt. Ryan Schafer offered some insight on West Virginia Black Bears. With the Mountain State’s bear population growing, Schafer said people are now more likely to encounter a bear in any county, in any setting. Fortunately, the chances of the encounter becoming dangerous is slim—if you are educated and prepared.
Schafer suggested following the old saying, “If it is brown, lie down, and if it’s black, fight back.” Black Bears are the only native bear to West Virginia. “Like people, every bear has a different personality and may respond differently to a person’s actions towards it,” explained Sgt. Schaffer.
Schafer said he has encountered dozens of bears in his lifetime and every single time he’s had a close encounter, he yelled and waved his arms, which resulted in the bear either running or meandering the other way. Although these have been his experiences, other states have occasionally reported cases where a Black Bear has stalked and mauled a person.
“When traveling in bear country, my advice is to have a partner with you and talk loudly as you travel, or strap a bell onto your pack, so that there’s very little chance that you surprise a bear,” he advised. If you encounter a bear in close range, Schafer suggests waving your arms and yelling, so the bear is aware of your presence. If the bear does not move away, slowly back away and shelter somewhere if possible, such as in a building or vehicle.
Although rare, there are occasions that a Black Bear will attack. If this happens, Sgt. Schafer advises to fight back with everything you have, like pepper spray, rocks, sticks, etc.
When camping in an area where Black Bears may be present, store food in a bear-proof container or hang it in a high place, such as a tree. It is also advised to not cook or prepare food around the area where you will be sleeping.
When setting your garbage out, wait until the day of pick-up if possible, to avoid attracting a bear. And if there is a known bear in the neighborhood, avoid leaving your pet’s food out, especially on your porch. Sgt. Schafer also advised to not put bird feeders in your yard if there is a known active bear in your area, as this may attract bears as well.
For more information and safety tips on bears, visit https://bearwise.org/.