Spring is the time when black bears and cubs emerge from their winter dens; typically between mid-March to early May in Virginia. Bears typically avoid humans, but may wander into suburban areas in their search for food. Bears are attracted by bird feeders, garbage, outdoor pet food, compost piles, fruit trees, and berry-producing shrubs. If addressed quickly, situations can be resolved almost immediately by removing the food source. Sometimes, the bear may return searching for food, but after a few failed attempts to find it, will leave the property. Most often, bears will keep moving through an area once they fail in their attempts to find food.
If encountered, female bears (called sows) and their cubs should not be approached. 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. If a bear huffs or “woofs,” clacks its teeth, growls or slaps the ground, it is warning you that you are too close.
The Fairfax County Wildlife Management Specialist and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries suggest residents take the following precautions to minimize encounters with black bears:
- 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. Bring your pets inside to provide the bear a clear path to leave your property.
- If you see a very small cub, do not try to remove it from the area or “save it.”
- Secure your garbage in bear-resistant trash cans or store it in a secure building.
- If you have a trash collection service, put your trash out the morning of the pickup, not the night before.
- Do not store household trash, or anything that smells like food, in vehicles, on porches or decks.
- Keep your grill clean.
- Don’t put meat scraps in your compost pile.
- Don’t leave pet food outdoors.
- Remove bird feeders if a bear is in the area.
- Encourage your neighbors to take similar precautions.
Never feed a bear under any circumstances. In Virginia, it is illegal to feed bears on both public and private lands. Feeding bears (whether deliberate or inadvertent) can habituate bears to people and cause serious property damage. These actions are often detrimental to the bear itself as bears that have lost their fear of people often have to be destroyed. Please help us keep our communities safe and our wildlife wild by doing your part to remove attractants on your property.
Bear sightings should be reported to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries through the Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline at (855) 571-9003. Unless the animal is sick or injured, or poses a threat to public safety, the Fairfax County Animal Protection Police do not take actions to remove bears from a neighborhood. Black bears have a natural fear of humans, and in most cases, would rather flee than encounter people.
To learn more about black bears in Virginia, please visit: