Monday, February 18, 2008

Black bear population exploding in the Shenandoah Valley

Lee Blagg and area sheep farmers in Highland County lost approximately $20,000 worth of sheep last summer and fall because of a rogue black bear.

"When he wakes up in the spring, he'll be back," said Blagg.

The black bear population has steadily increased over the years as protected bears from federal areas venture beyond Shenandoah National Park and the Washington National Forest onto private lands, causing damage to crops and livestock.

Hunters killed 1,633 black bears last year with the bulk of them coming from Rockingham County.

Complaints of bears damaging agriculture have increased 44% over the past 20 years. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries tracks the bear population, trapping nusiance bears to relocate. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has been relocating bears for years, trapping and driving them deep into the national forests for release.

Al Bourgeois and David Kocka, Valley biologists with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, are the local experts who trap nuisance bears. They know first-hand the damage rogue bears can cause to farmers and domestic animals.

Last year the increased problems with bears may have stemmed from the lack of food in the wild including acorns, blackberries, blueberries, and black cherries due to a late April frost that killed blossoms on those as well as apple and other fruit trees.

When that has occurred in the past, black bears have been seen in city areas including once when a cub wandered in the open back door of the CVS Pharmacy on West Beverley Street in Staunton.

The state's Bear Population Control Program allows landowners to apply for permits to kill nuisance bears, and hunting season has been extended to decrease the numbers of bears in the Valley.

More information is available in the Waynesboro News Virginian and the Harrisonburg Daily News Record.

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