It wasn’t a normal night shift for Parkersburg police. Officers were called to a densely populated section of town after a black bear was spotted roaming the neighborhood.
“We’re not used to dealing with this sort of thing,” said Chief Joe Martin. “In fact, I think it may be the first time we’ve had one sighted in the city limits.”
Bear numbers across the state have risen sharply in the last decade and the DNR says there are now confirmed bear sightings in all 55 West Virginia counties.
DNR officials arrived on the scene as the bear led police and neighborhood residents on what seemed to be an endless chase between homes and up and down streets lined with people. The commotion drew scores of people out of their homes, flashlight in hand.
“I was taken aback when I arrived on scene about ten-minutes before midnight at how many people were out and about, even kids. It seemed like it was 6pm instead of midnight,” Martin said. “That weighed heavily on me because a 300 pound animal can go wherever it wants to.”
Martin said the initial plan was to tranquilize the animal and move it out of the city to a remote part of the state. But Martin said as more and more people started to follow the animal, it became clear the plan wasn’t going to work.
Officers eventually chased the bear into an open area in a park near downtown where it was put down with three gunshots.
“It was a fairly good sized animal, about six-feet tall and 300 pounds,” Martin said.
DNR officials say this is the time of year bear sightings in residential areas are most common. Bears are emerging from hibernation and hungry, but the normal natural foods haven’t set on in the wild yet. They’ll go in search of bird feeders, pet food, and garbage. Officials say once they’ve had a taste of those, they usually won’t leave and will become more aggressive if the source isn’t removed.
Officials suggest keeping trash and pet food put up at night and taking down bird feeders for several weeks to avoid any problems.
“People feed them and are well intentioned,” said DNR Biologist Chris Ryan. “But what they don’t realize is in the long run they are only hurting the bear.”
Typically when a bear has become a nuisance it’s become harder in recent years for state wildlife officials to relocate them to an area where they’ll stay out of trouble. The only other solution is to destroy the animal.