Black Bears Reported in Harrisonburg

Oct 6, 2020

Residents in the Diamond Court neighborhood in eastern Harrisonburg reported seeing a bear with cubs last week.
Credit Randi B. Hagi

One Harrisonburg neighborhood reported several sightings of black bears last week.  And while the streets and backyards have been quiet for a few days now, autumn is prime time for urban bear activity. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

Harrisonburg Police Officer Geoffrey Bechtel saw a mother with a few cubs on the east end of town after a resident reported her dogs being attacked by the bear.

Officer Geoffrey Bechtel is with Harrisonburg's Animal Care and Control team.
Credit Geoffrey Bechtel

GEOFFREY BECHTEL: They just turned around and ran away from me … There was a fear that someone had been charged by the bear, but that was actually incorrect, I actually spoke with that owner. They came outside and their dogs were going after the bear, and that was a couple of the dogs that got injured.

Bechtel is one half of the city's Animal Care and Control team. He said that they usually get about one bear sighting per year in the city – usually in the fall.

BECHTEL: Typically this is their season to feed and to fatten up for the winter.

He's been getting advice from the Department of Wildlife Resources. And while some residents have expressed concern that the bears might be put down by authorities, that's probably not necessary. Stephanie Simek leads the department's Black Bear Project.

STEPHANIE SIMEK: In some cases, if you have a bear that is exhibiting non-normal behavior, then certainly, we would probably consider an option to humanely dispatch that animal … in the case of Harrisonburg, the bear is really exhibiting normal behavior. Yes, it's very unfortunate that it was entangled on a couple occasions with dogs. But to be honest with you, dogs are probably … nationwide that's probably the number one conflict with bears.

Simek said since the bears have been retreating when approached or yelled at, they should learn quickly that this neighborhood, full of single family houses, and with lots of trees, isn't a good place to find food. If they remain a nuisance, the Department of Wildlife Resources may suggest ramping up deterrent methods such as shooting at the bears with paintballs or rubber rounds. For now, Simek says residents in the area, near a Chevy dealership, a Martin's Food store and plenty of other shops, should not leave garbage, pet food, bird feeders, or small animals outside.

But Virginia is bear country...

SIMEK: And so when you're living in these environments and recreating in these environments, recognize that you might actually encounter a bear, and just know the things that you need to do.

More information is available at dwr.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear.