North Stafford bear.jpg

This bear was about 15 feet from Jeff Eastland’s porch.

Hearing about bears sighted in King George County last week brought back memories of a rather large male bruin that visited our backyard about 2½ years ago.

Our guy was up to the same activity as the ones reported in King George—and another that I heard about, on Friday, in North Stafford. Jeff Eastland, who has a farm on Toluca Road off State Route 610, took a photo of what looks like a young male about 15 feet from his front porch. It was the first bear he’d seen in 20 years of living there.

“It was thrilling to see, but a little disconcerting at the same time,” Eastland wrote in an email. “We have cats, chickens, etc. so it can be worrisome.”

The bear demolished two tube-shape bird feeders in Eastland’s yard and bent over an iron shepherd’s hook to nab a suet cake.

That’s just what happened at our house in southern Fauquier in fall 2016 and at homes in King George last week.

As sightings were posted on Facebook, the responses ran the gamut from “so pretty and neat that it is traveling around King George” to “so sad that animals such as this bear are being systematically pushed out of their natural surroundings.”

One woman wished she could extend an invitation for the bear to visit, because she’s got plenty of space around her home where a bear could hide. Another said she didn’t mind him visiting, but she has lots of bird feeders, and she didn’t want her setup destroyed.

For some reason, the image of Goldilocks and the Three Bears popped into my head. Maybe we’ve gotten so removed from all things wild that we assume all wild things are proper little creatures who want nothing more than to sit down for a spot of tea—and would you please pass the honey?

The reality is bears are moving about in spring, looking for food, and the easier the pickings, the better. If that means ripping open a trash bag that’s left on the porch, mangling a grill because it’s got the oh-so-yummy aroma of grease or yanking at a dangling suet cake until its holder breaks into smithereens, then so be it.

The bear doesn’t care about the tended flower beds it tromps through or the pretty lighthouse-shaped bird feeder it destroys.

It’s an animal, scavenging for anything it can get its paws on, and if it doesn’t find what it’s looking for, it’ll move on.

King George Animal Control Officer Kevin Eller reminded residents that they can’t shoot at bears because it’s not hunting season, and advised them to avoid confrontations. Get inside, he said, and take photos from the safety of your home.

In other words, don’t try to get a selfie of you and the marauding bear.

People have always said that black bears, like black snakes, are more afraid of you than you are of them. Their first reaction is to run away.

But confront or provoke them, come between them and their food—or their offspring—and you could be looking at trouble.

I thought about all those things on fall nights a few years ago, when I’d come home from work, in the dark, about the same time that our trail camera had recorded the furry visitor. We kept all the porch lights on until I was safely inside, and that was one time we were glad we didn’t have dogs that needed to go outside and do their business.

“Black bears are beauties,” posted one King George person on Facebook, and I wholeheartedly agree. But they’re also wild creatures that need their space, so let’s do what we can to keep them from viewing our backyards as their personal picnic grounds.

It’s better for all of us in the long run.

Information about being “bear aware,” and preventing conflicts in backyards or while camping and hiking, is available at dgif.virginia.gov/bear-aware.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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