Bear sightings reported in Smithfield

Published 5:19 pm Friday, April 14, 2023

Around 1 a.m. on April 14, Maury Talbert awoke to the sight of a black bear having knocked over his bird feeder, and snapped a photo.

He isn’t alone. Social media users have reported multiple bear sightings in Smithfield this month.

On the neighborhood-based Nextdoor website, users have reported seeing bears in Wellington Estates, Gatling Pointe and the Cherry Grove neighborhood off Benns Church Boulevard.

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Bear sightings are “fairly normal” for the area, said Peter Acker, a district biologist with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.

“Every town has got them, at least on the outskirts,” he said.

Locally, the highest concentration of black bears is around the Great Dismal Swamp, according to the DWR’s website. Sightings are more common in the spring, when natural food supplies are limited and “human-related foods” such as garbage and bird feeders are available.

Areas where under-construction residential developments are encroaching into forested lands may also see an uptick in bear sightings. According to census data, Isle of Wight County has far outpaced the state in housing growth, with a 12% increase in new units compared to 7.6% statewide. 

But it’s up to humans to keep them from coming back.

“We don’t want any wild animals becoming tame,” Acker said.

Bears are highly adaptable, intelligent animals that may learn to associate human dwellings with food, states the DWR’s website. To deter them, remove bird feeders and plant seed-bearing plants instead, store garbage indoors or put it out the morning of pickup rather than the night before, and feed pets indoors, the DWR recommends.

Bears rarely attack people unless cornered or provoked, the DWR’s website states. If you see one, and it sees you, back away slowly while facing the bear. Don’t run or make sudden movements that could prompt the bear to give chase.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misidentified Maury Talbert as female.