There is controversy surrounding the black bear sow that attacked a Staunton man and his dog a few days ago while they were in the George Washington National Forest, and an online petition being circulated to save them (see petition here).
Traps have been set in the forest to catch the bears that will then be euthanized. The outcry is that the bears were in their habitat, not encroaching on private property, and the sow was provoked to protect her cubs. The unleashed dog chased one of the cubs which caused the sow to attack Steven Kirchbaum, 59, of Staunton, and his dog.
There are reasons that authorities are looking for the bears, according to the Winchester Star (see W.Va. officials seek to catch, euthanize bears in attack):
Colin Carpenter, project leader for the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources Black Bear Project, said today that although the attack was unusual and a freak accident, public safety was the top concern.
He acknowledged that the bear was provoked and just protecting her cubs, but the department does not want bears learning unacceptable behavior.
“We generally don’t want bears that have attacked people to be out,” he said.
He added that the department will leave the traps down for two to four days in an attempt to catch the bear and her cubs.
If caught, all three will be “put down” and tested for rabies — although it is a slim possibility any of them have the disease, Carpenter said.
Bear attacks are very uncommon in Virginia, and Kirchbaum has expressed his desire that the bears not be killed.
A few years ago I wrote a post about Virginia’s black bear population in the Washington Examiner (see Black bear sightings in the Shenandoah Valley), noting the many sightings of this usually docile resident that can be found in all areas of Virginia, not just the mountains. In the article I wrote that in the Augusta County area, two friends are the local bear experts when Ursus americanus becomes a nuisance:
Al Bourgeois and David Kocka, Valley biologists with Game and Inland Fisheries who live in Augusta County, are the local experts who trap nuisance bears. I guess they could be called the “Bear Busters.” They know first-hand the damage rogue bears can cause to farmers, domestic animals, and homes. Their advice when bears are hanging around is to remove outdoor bird feeders, trash cans, pet food, and any other sources of food. If the problem continues, call the “Bear Busters.”
Many will be watching to see the outcome of the George Washington National Forest bear sow and cubs. For more information about safety around black bears in Virginia, visit the Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries website.