The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources is reminding residents that feeding black bears is against state law. It also does a disservice to the state animal, according to Colin Carpenter, black bear project leader for the DNR Wildlife Resources Section. "Some people will illegally set out food so they can get a closer look at this often secretive animal," Carpenter said in a news release from the agency. "However, these actions often lead to the destruction of the bear. Bear movements are tied to food sources. Bears that roam in and around residential areas in search of food are less likely to stay if they do not find anything to eat."
Bear populations have increased in both number and distribution in the past 20 years according to the DNR. Bears are now found in areas where they have been absent for decades and have been reported in all 55 counties.
Human/bear interactions increase during the spring and summer for several reasons. Natural food sources are at their lowest point when bears leave their dens in the spring. Bears often spend several weeks feeding on green vegetation while continuing to lose weight. High-energy foods such as, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries do not become available until later in the summer.
In addition, the bear breeding season, which peaks from late June through July, puts many bears on the move. During the breeding season, males will cover large areas while searching for females. This is also the time of year when adult female bears will chase off their yearlings so that they may breed again. Human-related food sources are higher in calories and easier to obtain than natural foods. All bears, especially yearlings that are on their own for the first time, will take advantage of easy food sources. Bears will continue on their way if they do not find easy food.
"The unintentional feeding of black bears is something that can be prevented," Carpenter said.
Feeding of any wildlife should be avoided for numerous reasons, including, but not limited to, disease transmission, increased predation, habitat destruction around the feeding site, ethical concerns, and the animal's overall health. Following these practical and common sense recommendations will reduce human-bear conflicts and assure that more of the state's animals remain wild.