GOOCHLAND COUNTY, Va. -- He only comes out at night, at least that's what a Goochland man said about the black bear who has turned his garbage can into an all-you-can-eat buffet. John Harrelson set-up a game camera outside his home off Route 6 near Goochland High School last Spring when he first suspected the bear was rummaging through his trash.
"He visits about once every 10 days," Harrelson said about his overnight guest who first appeared in April. The large bear opens Harrelson's plastic bin which contains his trash cans, and looks for food. Harrelson said the plastic bin sits about four-feet high, five-feet lone and three-feet wide.
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries spokesman Lee Walker said the bear's actions should not come as a surprise.
"As long as there is a food source, he's going to hang around," Walker said. "Obviously he's finding food that's keeping him around."
And eating well.
"The black bear appears to be around 300 to 400 pounds and looks to be very healthy," David Whitehurst, Director of the Bureau of Wildlife Resources for DGIF, said. "Depending on the time of year, adult female black bears can commonly weigh between 90 to 250 pounds and males between 130 to 500 pounds."
Walker added bears now live in nearly every county in Virginia.
"Bears are attracted to residential areas by the smell of foods people commonly put out around their homes," the department posted online. "It is up to humans to change their own behaviors to avoid conflicts."
Harrelson said other than cleaning up the mess the bear leaves behind, there have been no conflicts.
"After a few failed attempts to find food around homes, bears will usually leave the area in search of their natural wild foods," wildlife experts advised. "Don't allow the bear to feel comfortable in your yard. After ensuring the bear has an escape route, make lots of noise to encourage it to leave. Remove any non-natural foods that attracted the bear."
You Can Keep Bears Wild
Black bears have a natural distrust of humans, are shy, and usually avoid people. However, bears may be attracted to food sources in residential areas:
- Remove the bird feeders. It is best not to put out food for birds from April–November. Instead, plant native seed-bearing plants or use water features to attract birds to your home.
- Secure your garbage. Store garbage indoors, in a shed or garage, or in a bear-proof container. Put garbage out on the morning of pickup, not the night before, or take it to the dump frequently.
- Pick up pet food. Feed pets only what they will eat in a single feeding or feed them indoors. Remove all uneaten food. Do not leave food out overnight.
- Do not put meat scraps in the compost pile. Keep compost away from house.
- Pick up and remove ripe fruit from fruit trees and surrounding grounds.
- Clean the grill often. Do not dump drippings in your yard. Run the grill an extra 5 minutes to burn off grease.
- Install electric fencing to protect beehives, dumpsters, gardens, compost piles, or other potential food sources.
- Don't store food, freezers, refrigerators, or trash on porches.
- Use harassment techniques in conjunction with removing the attractant to get the bear to move off your property. Paintballs are a great tool for hazing. They are nonlethal, won't harm the bear if shot at the rump, but are painful enough to get the bear moving away from homes.
- Talk to your neighbors. Make sure your neighbors and community administrators are aware of the ways to prevent bears from causing problems.