- This black bear in Idaho's Yellowstone Bear World has really let itself go. (Courtesy of David Ba?ina)
Virginia’s hidden horde of bears is beginning to emerge from its wintertime slumber. And no, that’s not a reference to hometown hero Bob Mould.
Last week, phones at Fairfax County Police HQ began jangling as residents reported the season’s first bear sightings. One medium-sized Ursus americanus was spotted at dawn on June 9 shambling across the road near Holly Briar Lane in Great Falls. Three more reports rolled in the next day for bears on patrol near Bennington Woods Road, Stowe Road and a walking trail close to Autumn Wood Drive.
This is the time of year when bears (and tons of rabbits) are out and about. Cubs and their mothers hunker down in a kind of stupor (not hibernation, contrary to popular belief) in thickets and hollowed-out trees from about October to January. Then they wake up and chill until about May, when the mother gets fed up with her offspring’s lazy ways and punts the cubs out into the world.
“She’s gotta get on with her life,” says Ron Messina, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
The yearlings wander around to find a new home and food. They love to munch on grasses, skunk cabbage, juicy roots, summer berries and the fruits of the autumn olive, as well as tasty roadkill flattened on the highway into stinking pancakes. But their incessant hunt for sustenance also brings the animals to trash cans, charcoal grills, doggie bowls and bird feeders. That’s when the commotion begins.
However, it’s rare for a black bear to be aggressive. “There are no reports of an unprovoked attack in Virginia that I know of,” says Messina. Human-on-bear attacks occur regularly, however, as a legal way of managing the species.
The bear population in Virginia is on the increase, so sightings of these shy and secretive creatures will no doubt become more numerous. Bears have been spotted not just in their historical strongholds like the Appalachians and around Dismal Swamp, but in every county of Virginia.
“It’s a real treat to see a black bear in Virginia,” Messina says. “If you see one, give it space, enjoy it but watch from a distance. More often than not, if it sees you’re there it will take off.”
Messina helped make a video about the state's black bears, which you can view below. Watch it if only for the amazing sound that irate cub makes in the first 5 seconds: