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Local Bear Population Could Be On The Rise

By Staff | Jul 10, 2013

This bear, photographed July 5, appears to be out for a leisurely stroll in Tyler County.

The accompanying photographs perhaps suggest the “bear” facts the best: the bear population in the area seems to be increasing.

Eighth Street New Martinsville resident Eva Starkey started the Chronicle’s hunt into area-bear sightings with a photo she submitted of a sighting that occurred July 4, around 6:30 a.m.

“Had it not been for our (Eva and husband Larry) grandson’s early morning feeding, we would have never known our furry friend had paid us a visit.”

Starkey says her grandson’s parents were in the sunroom and watched the bear stroll into the yard. Starkey says once the bear made eye contact with the photographer, it slowly turned and headed south. “We see lots of different wildlife ‘on the hill’ (i.e. rabbits, squirrels, deer, turkey, raccoon) but this was our most memorable traveler thus far.”

Once the Chronicle inquired into other sightings, the stories and photos began pouring in. Jeanine Watson submitted several beautiful images captured on a trail cam. “My dad, Jack Watson, built a log cabin about 500 yards from his home in Knob Fork,” Jeanine stated. “He goes down daily and feeds the wildlife. During the winter he had five deer that came every evening when they heard his truck drive up. He had as many as 12 deer some nights. He also feeds birds and turkeys.” Jeanine stated that her father keeps the food in a footlocker on the porch of his cabin, but one early June evening he discovered his entire footlocker was missing. “He searched and found it down on the right of way over the hill . . .Empty!” Jeanine said the ground had been “wallowed” around the footlocker as well.

Eva Starkey says this bear was sighted at her and husband Larry’s home on Eighth Street, New Martinsville, at approximately 6:30 a.m. on July 4.

“He was fairly sure that it had to be a bear that stole the food, so he set up his field camera in hopes of getting pictures . . . After days of capturing pictures of many other critters but no bear, he didn’t put the camera back in place every day.”

However . . .”Then in late June the footlocker disappeared again. He found it close to the same area as before. This time there was evidence of a bear.” Jeanine adds that there was a paw print inside the footlocker, along with claw and teeth marks all over the footlocker. “Once again the camera was set to capture pictures and this time he was successful.”

Tyler County also has its fair share of “tails.” Mike Thomas and Chuck Hamilton both had photographic evidence of recent bear crossings in the county. Thomas’ photo was taken in April, though Hamilton’s photo was taken July 5. “My son Charlie and I came upon this photogenic bear at Pratt’s Run, Tyler County. We were much closer to him but took a couple seconds to think about a camera.”

“What a beautiful creature!” Chuck said about this wildlife encounter.

If photos aren’t enough, the DNR has confirmed the bear population seems to have an upward path. “We’ve been hoping to try to manage for it to increase. We have our (hunting) seasons so it could increase,” states Jeff McCready, a Division of Natural Resource’s game biologist for the District One region, which includes Tyler County.

This image, submitted by Mike Thomas, was captured in April at Grimm’s Run in Tyler County.

Mike Peters, one of the DNR’s game biologists for District Six, which includes Wetzel County, agrees: “There is an increase in the bear population. It’s hard to estimate what the bear population is, because we get very few bears over there during our bear season,” but, “We’ve been having more sightings and more nuisance bear complaints, which is a good indication we have a growing bear population.”

McCready would personally like to see the bear population stay the same, or even grow, though just slightly. “A harvest of five or less would be acceptable,” he says of the upcoming hunting season in December. McCready references the fact that bears are native to this region. “(Tyler) is a rural county, sparsely populated with no big towns . . . We just think we ought to have bears . . . we would like to have bears represented in all the counties in this district.”

As for advice for those who have come across one of the large, furry mammals?: “You should make it absolutely plain in your article . . . you should never feed a bear,” McCready warns. “Don’t allow them to get into garbage and things that are not a natural food source. If they don’t have access to human-produced food, you won’t have a problem with them.” He adds, “Don’t feed the bears . . . that bear (that is fed), is a dead bear . . . We don’t want them to get domesticated.”

Peters wants to clarify that just because a bear is in your back yard, “It doesn’t mean it’s a nuisance.”

“There’s really nothing to do . . . there’s not reason to panic.” He also says the old piece of advice is true: “They are more afraid of us than we are of them.”

This gorgeous bear was caught by trail cam at Knob Fork, in Wetzel County.

Peters also adds that bears are more likely to go toward livestock such as goats, sheep, and lambs. “Very rarely do we see an incident where a bear attacks a dog or cat.”

Regardless, the DNR is there: “We can talk to individual farmers to help them bear-proof their animals, but we don’t get too much animal damage . . . Most of the damage is to beehives and sweet corns.” He adds, “Bears love corn.”

Also, Peters said he would definitely agree to his fellow DNR game biologist’s advice of not feeding the bears. “Bears are looking for easy meals, such as pet food, hummingbird feeders, trash, and livestock feed.” Peters adds, “I would say 90 percent of the time if someone has a nuisance bear problem, it’s because the bears are finding easy meals.”

As for a want of more bears, Peters agrees that in some areas, “we could handle a slight increase, but a lot of the areas, hold the population at the same.”