An editorial from The Dominion Post
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Sometimes the best way to respect Mother Nature is simply to not get to close to her.
Especially when she weighs more than 300 pounds and has four cubs in tow.
This summer, dozens of people in and around the greater Morgantown area have spotted black bears.
Whether in the woods, on the road or in their yards, black bears are everywhere.
No, not to the degree of white-tail deer, which are now the target of urban hunts in Morgantown.
However, according to the state Division of Natural Resources (DNR), West Virginia’s bear population has grown from an all-time low of fewer than 500 in the late 1960s to more than 10,000 today.
When you consider the state’s shrinking bear habitat and escalating black bear harvests —four out of the past five years have topped 2,000 —that ’s astounding.
The past two years have recorded the top two highest harvests on record —2,691 in 2012, and 2,682 in 2013.
Some might see this news of a healthy bear population as a nuisance or worse, a threat.
We don’t. The black bear is not just the state’s official animal, it’s also a precursor to the health of all our state’s wildlife and its wilderness.
We applaud the DNR and its commitment to the decades of research and protection that has resulted in the black bear’s rebound.
That said, it’s also important that the DNR continue to also educate the public about bear interactions in not only residential areas, but also in bear country.
Most sightings of bears occur in remote areas or as the animals high-tail it toward the wild.
However, visiting bears and bear damage in developed areas is becoming commonplace.
Worse yet, there’s always the risk these encounters can lead to injuries, such as the mauling of a woman in June, in the Mayfield Road area of Monongalia County.
Routine activities in residential areas, such as feeding birds and pets, grilling food and not securely storing trash set the stage for these kinds of conflicts.
The best advice to keep such encounters at a minimum is to get rid of food sources that attract bears.
Remove bird feeders from yards, or bring them inside at night when bears are most active, and use foil on grills or clean them regularly, for example.
Interactions with bears rarely lead to any critical harm to people, but it’s often a death sentence for the bear.
Bears are not meant to be spectacles for those who would lure them for viewing, either.
Indeed, always keep a safe distance from bears.
That’s not just being respectful, it’s how to keep our state animal wild and wonderful.