Bellair bears: Ursine invaders trash neighborhood

Bear sightings are not unusual here in the spring, like this one at a cabin near the Shenandoah National Park. It’s their leaving trash all over the place that’s perturbing some Bellair residents. Helga Hiss Bear sightings are not unusual here in the spring, like this one at a cabin near the Shenandoah National Park. It’s their leaving trash all over the place that’s perturbing some Bellair residents. Helga Hiss

By Eileen Abbott

Bradley Kipp recently noticed evidence of a nighttime intruder in the tranquil, wooded Bellair neighborhood west of town where he lives. A resourceful problem solver, Kipp decided to use bungee cords to thwart the thief.

He created makeshift “locks” to tightly seal his trash bins, which were being regularly rummaged through, apparently by a bear that left frequent morning messes all over the yard. “Obviously, a bungee cord won’t stop a hungry bear, but that’s not really the goal” he says. “The goal is to frustrate the bear so he/she simply gives up and moves on. We’ve only had one bear incident since adding the bungee cords.”

Down the street, Kipp’s neighbor, Bev Sidders, shares a similar experience. “I’ve had two incidents this spring of bears coming into my carport, between my cars, turning over my trash cans, and dragging trash all over the yard. I’ve had to move my trash cans into a fenced-in area, and move my cars to get them in and out, so it’s a big inconvenience,” she says.

Some residents believe the bears may have meandered into Bellair after being displaced because of the land clearing going on at nearby Birdwood Golf Course, which is currently undergoing renovations.

“Their habitats have been destroyed,” surmises Sidders.

“We are new residents to the Bellair neighborhood, so this is new to me,” says Kipp. “However, my parents have lived in the neighborhood for four years, and this is the first year they have noticed a bear problem.”

“Construction might impact movements of bears, but mostly it is a food-driven system,” says Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries wildlife biologist David Kocka. Last fall, very few acorns were produced across much of Virginia, he says, and when natural foods are limited, bears search more for food in the spring because there are no leftover acorns.

DGIF Regional Wildlife Manager Jaime Sajecki explains that bears are coming out of dens after months of not eating. Some have given birth and nursed cubs with nothing to eat for months. They lose 30 percent of their body weight, and if there were not good natural food sources in the fall, they can be on the edge of starvation by early spring.

“Bears only come into human-occupied areas because they are desperate for easy foods that don’t take any effort to get,” she says. “They can eat a whole day’s worth of calories from one bag of trash. Bird feeders and garbage cans are the fast food option for bears who would rather spend less calories getting the most calories they can.”

Virginia has never had a bear-caused fatality, she says, and bears are not in neighborhoods because they want to eat people or pets. “It is the buffet of half-eaten sandwiches, pizza crusts, and all the other things we put in the trash that draw them in.”

There is no increase this year in the bear population, which DGIF monitors in five- and 10-year-trends, says Kocka. “Bear populations don’t really change very quickly.”

Game & Inland Fisheries recommends going to its website, which includes information on how to reduce the chances of bears visiting your property. After a few failed attempts to find food around homes, bears will usually leave the area.

“Simple preventative steps make sure that we can all coexist,” says Sajecki.

Bellair resident Betsy Tucker accepts the fact that there is wildlife in her neighborhood, “We live very near the mountains and woods, and it comes with habitat. I didn’t pay to live in a sidewalk community. I don’t mind the bears at all. They’re not grizzlies.”

Deer, however, are another matter, says Tucker’s husband Chip. “The deer are fearless, ubiquitous, and on the increase.”

Sidders agrees. “At least eight live in my yard and have destroyed a contorted filbert tree, dug up or eaten all my tulip plantings, and anything else that I don’t surround with a wire cage,” she says.

Tucker’s neighbor, Dr. Matthew Bowen, says the issue is management, and he’s been vocal about his hopes the UVA Foundation will allow deer hunting to keep the wildlife population in check. The foundation owns , both of which border the Bellair neighborhood, and it stopped bow-hunting when it acquired those properties several years ago.

Many Bellair residents believe this has contributed to deer over-population. “We very much wish that the university would regularly thin the herds by bow-hunting, and make the meat available to local people who need it,” says Tucker.

Bill Cromwell, director of real estate asset management for the UVA Foundation, hasn’t seen any significant damage to either property, “If they did cause significant damage, UVAF would investigate measures to mitigate any issues,” he writes in an email.

His development team meets monthly with the neighborhood associations adjacent to these properties, he adds. “Residents should feel free to contact their HOA representatives to express their concerns.”

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