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November 7, 2018

Resident black bear crisscrosses Warrenton

Contributed Photo
A Warrenton resident sent this photo of a bear in town to the sheriff’s office in July.
He looked both ways, like a human being would and ran across the street. I kept looking at him and looking at him and hoping he kept going.
— Carroll Winston, Alexandria Pike resident
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The Warrenton man’s work day a few weeks ago started and ended like most others.

After about nine hours in the kitchen of Knakal’s Bakery in Culpeper, Carroll Winston got home and parked his dark blue 2013 Volkswagen Passat on Alexandria Pike.

But the morning of Oct. 2 suddenly took a remarkable turn for reasons Mr. Winston never could have imagined.

“I was getting out of the car and coming into the house, and this bear came through the lane next to my house and he disappeared in those bushes,” he recalled, pointing to the bottom of a wooded lot on Diagonal Street across from Horse Country Saddlery.

“First time I’ve seen that,” said the baker, a 45-year resident of Alexandria Pike. “I’ve seen groundhogs but nothing like a bear.”

Laura Fox, who lives west of Opal, shot video of the black bear’s mid-morning ramble across Alexandria Pike and Diagonal Street on her iPhone.

A nurse at Loudoun Hospital, Ms. Fox had just parallel parked her silver 2008 Honda Fit hatchback a couple spaces behind Mr. Winston’s car.

“I was taking my daughter to story time at the library, and I just pulled into the spot,” she recalled. “And, I just saw the bear stick its head out past the fence” along Mr. Winston’s front yard.

Ms. Fox, 37, quickly grabbed her phone from the passenger seat and photographed the bear.

“Then I was like, ‘I gotta video this!’ So I flipped my camera over to video, and then it just crossed the street and went on its way.”

A few factors explain why black bear sightings in Warrenton and other Fauquier neighborhoods have grown increasingly common in recent years, according to Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ biologists.

For one thing, the area’s bear population continues to increase, they say.

For another, because of inadequate natural food sources, bears seek easy suburban nutritional targets, including trash cans, bird feeders and pet food, said Fred Frenzel, a state wildlife biologist.

Multiple sightings in larger towns also indicate the bear that Mr. Winston and Ms. Fox saw probably has some company, Mr. Frenzel said.

Residents also have spotted a bear along the Warrenton Branch Greenway and near McDonald's and Walker Drive.

“In an area the size of Warrenton and the bear population we’ve got, I’m sure there’s more than one bear visiting portions of Warrenton,” he explained.

His agency “for years” has received routine complaints about bears overturning trash cans, toppling bird feeders or cutting through yards in Warrenton, Mr. Frenzel said.

Virginia’s black bear population stands at an estimated 18,000, said Jaime Sajecki, black bear project leader for the game and inland fisheries’ department.

But bear behavior makes it difficult to calculate county-by-county populations, Ms. Sajecki said.

“We don’t manage them at that level, like we do for deer,” she explained. “That’s because a bear can have a home range of 100 square miles” and roam from one county to another.

Technically, bears don’t hibernate but rather enter “deep sleep” during winter, when they lose about 30 percent of their body weight, Ms. Sajecki said.

Full-grown bears typically weigh 300 to 400 pounds and measure 4 to 6 feet long, according to the state game department.

Fattening up for those dormant months, they must add one to two pounds of weight a day, the state biologist said.

That requires bears to consume about 20,000 calories per day, or 10 pounds per day of acorns — their preferred food source, Ms. Sajecki said.

“They would have to find a lot of acorns and spend a lot of time traveling” to reach that goal, “especially in a year when we don’t have a good” supply of them, she said.

Instead, “the easiest thing that takes the least amount of effort is going into some of these residential areas and going through people’s garbage or eating from bird feeders,” Ms. Sajecki explained. “They can knock over a bird feeder, get their 20,000 calories and then go find a place to nap for the rest of the day.”

Unthreatened, bears will remain in developed areas as long as the food source lasts, Mr. Frenzel said.

“They don’t especially like being around us, but they like our stuff,” Mr. Frenzel said.

While bears generally pose no danger to people, he offered a few practical tips to help send them on their way.

“You don’t want to corner the bear,” Mr. Frenzel said. “You should make some noise, do something to let the bear know this is not a safe, quiet place. From a safe distance, like your porch, you could bang on a pot or pan.

“If you’re in your vehicle, certainly blow your horn — any kind of loud noise; they don’t like loud noises.”

Most bear tussles with people — none of them fatal — have involved pets, Mr. Frenzel said.

“Dogs running out into the yard and the bear defending its cubs,” he said. “And the person got into the mix trying to defend their dog and got clawed or bitten by a bear.

“But even in those cases, we’ve not had major, serious injuries to people.”

People have a greater chance of getting killed by lightening than a black bear, according to Mr. Frenzel.

Fauquier sheriff’s Cpl. Richard L. Settle occasionally sees a bear in Warrenton and hears from concerned residents who spot one.

About two weeks ago, a Warrenton man reported a 150- to 200-pound bear wandering through his backyard, recalled Cpl. Settle, one of the county’s three animal control officers.

“A good sized bear. He said it was just walking across his yard.”

Animal control officers typically don’t act on bear sightings, Cpl. Settle said.

“We don’t have to report it to anybody, unless the bear was to cause a public safety issue.”

In that case, the state game and inland fisheries’ department would take over and determine whether it would remove the animal.

The bear that scampered through his yard seemed harmless enough and “smart,” Mr. Winston said.

“I’ll tell you something: He looked both ways, like a human being would, and ran across the street,” Mr. Winston added. “I kept looking at him and looking at him and hoping he kept going.

“He went on with his business, and I came in the house. It was a great experience to see.”

Contact Don Del Rosso at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-270-0300.

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Melrose Carter · November 8, 2018 at 9:26 am
"Two generations of humans have killed off more than half the world’s wildlife populations.

Human activity has annihilated wildlife on a scale unseen beyond mass extinction, and it has helped put humans on a potentially irreversible path toward a hot, chaotic planet stripped clean of the natural resources that enrich it, a new report has concluded.

Populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians have declined by 60 percent since 1970, according to a report released Monday by the advocacy group World Wildlife Fund. The animals that remain will fight against warming oceans choked with plastic, toppled rain forests may zero out fragile species, and refuges such as coral reefs may nearly die off.

That will transform life as humanity knows it, said Carter Roberts, the chief executive of the WWF in the United States, if societies do not reverse course to protect the food, water and shelter needed for survival."

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