Virginia is black bear country – including Fairfax County.
But while bears are not commonly encountered in our community, multiple bear sightings are reported each spring and summer as bears wander into residential areas in search for food.
Black bears and cubs emerge from their winter dens from March through May in Virginia. Bears typically avoid humans, but may be drawn into populated areas due to the smell of food around homes. Bears are attracted by bird feeders, garbage, outdoor pet food, compost piles, fruit trees, beehives and berry-producing shrubs.
Preventing problems with bears is a shared responsibility. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and our county wildlife management specialist recommend the following simple steps to reduce your chances of encountering a black bear in your neighborhood:
- Secure your garbage in bear-resistant trash cans or store it in a secure building.
- If you have trash collection service, put your trash out the morning of the pickup, not the night before.
- Do not store household trash, or anything that smells like food, in vehicles, on porches or decks.
- Remove bird feeders if a bear is in the area and keep them down for 3-4 weeks. Birdfeeders are a common lure for bears in Fairfax County.
- Keep your grill clean. Do not dump drippings in your yard.
- Don’t put meat scraps in your compost pile.
- Don’t leave pet food outdoors.
- Make sure your neighbors are following the same recommendations.
In almost all cases, a black bear will detect you and leave the area before being noticed. However, if you do encounter a bear, here are some suggestions:
- Respect the bear’s space. If you see a bear, enjoy watching from a distance.
- Never run from a bear. Running could prompt the bear to chase. If in a group, stay together and make sure that any dogs stay leashed.
- If a bear is up a tree on or near your property, give it space. Do not approach, and bring your pets inside to provide the bear a clear path to leave your property.
- If the bear hasn’t seen you, calmly leave the area, while making a bit of noise so the bear will not be surprised by you.
- If the bear has seen you, back away slowly while facing the bear.
- If a bear huffs or “woofs,” clacks its teeth, growls or slaps the ground, it is warning you that you are too close.
- Never feed a bear under any circumstances. In Virginia, it is illegal to feed bears on both public and private lands.
Bear sightings should be reported to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries through the Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline at (855) 571-9003, TTY 711. Unless the animal is sick or injured, or poses a threat to public safety, the Fairfax County Animal Protection Police do not take actions to remove bears from a neighborhood. Black bears have a natural fear of humans, and in most cases, would rather flee than encounter people.