A bear in the Lovers Leap area was euthanized last week after being fed by visitors.
Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) Region 2 Wildlife Manager Matthew Overstreet said the department has received numerous notifications about people feeding bears in and around the Lovers Leap area.
“Unfortunately, this site has a history of people feeding bears. It’s almost annually that we have an issue there of intentional or unintentional feeding,” he said.
Overstreet said the feeding of wild bears and other wildlife is a problem across the region, which includes most of southern Virginia. It also is an issue in other areas of Virginia.
“This is one of those incidents where the public has essentially loved the wildlife to death,” he said.
While he does not know the specifics of the situation, Overstreet said there are several laws and state codes regarding the unlawful feeding of wildlife. Those caught feeding bears after being given a notice or warned not to can face fines and potential jail time.
Overstreet said bears will often go to popular rural tourist destinations like the Lovers Leap Overlook to rifle through garbage and eat leftover food.
“I think there’s a large construction site near the area where food is potentially being made more readily available” to wildlife, he said.
Overstreet said bears that become accustomed to alternative foods and food sources also become more domesticated than those that are not influenced by people.
“They become vigilant to humans, they become accustomed to being fed, they lose their fear of humans, and it creates a bear that is dependent on a human resource,” he said.
More often than not, Overstreet noted that younger bears are more susceptible to being fed and being conditioned to the different food source humans provide and will “actually end up seeking out humans for food.”
He added that domesticated bears “can be quite destructive when the food source is removed, and it causes a lot of human conflict.”
The DWR website states “Bears attracted to residential areas or human dwellings due to feeding activities by people, whether deliberate or inadvertent (like bears eating from a birdfeeder or trash cans) can cause problems, including the habituation of bears to people and serious property damage. Regretfully, bears that have lost their fear of people often have to be destroyed.”
Overstreet said the bear last week could not be relocated because it did not meet the state’s strict circumstances to do so. While Virginia has relocated bears from one side of the state to another, bears that have been normalized to receiving food from humans will continue to do so wherever they are.
Overstreet also is in the process of creating signs against feeding bears for the Lovers Leap area to act as a warning for the passersby and visitors.
“If any law enforcement saw the public doing this, they could be ticketed at that very moment,” he said.
It is currently unknown when the signs will go up.
People who encounter bears are recommended to make loud noises, yell at the bear, use bear spray, and not encourage the behavior of the bear wanting to interact with humans.
For more information, go to www.dwr.virginia.gov.