Five years ago 57 bears were shot out of season, last year only three
In the two years since the Rappahannock News drew attention to the high number of bears killed by Rappahannock County farmers holding year-round “kill permits,” the number of bears destroyed has dropped dramatically.
So too has the number of Rappahannock farmers obtaining annual licenses to kill the bears: 13 farmers in 2016, dropping to six farmers in both 2017 and 2018, the lowest number of permits issued by the state in the past 10 years.
As it was, only three bears were killed by local farmers in each of 2017 and 2018.
By comparison, 18 bears were dispatched in 2016, another 18 in 2015 (when eight farmers held permits), 17 in 2014 (12 permitted farmers), and a staggering 57 bears — 28 of them shot by one farmer alone — met their demise in 2013 (when 10 farmers had permission to shoot to kill).
All told, from 2008 to 2018, Rappahannock farmers killed 177 bears they considered nuisances.
A figure that “stood out” two years ago as “not near ideal” to Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) Regional Wildlife Manager Jaime Sajecki, the state’s bear project leader, who told this newspaper that too often “no value is placed on these animals.”
According to DGIF records obtained this week by the News, based on information supplied by the permitted farmers, two of the three bears killed in 2018 impacted a Rappahannock County “vineyard,” while the other involved “sheep.”
During the five year period from 2013 to 2017, Rappahannock farmers killed 81 bears that took a liking to “corn” (186 acres of corn — mostly used for grain — were growing in Rappahannock County during the 2012 agricultural census).
While bears have been described as “big black eating machines,” when it comes to corn they have been known to destroy more than they eat.
“A feeding black bear will sit in a cornfield and pull down every stalk within reach, eating only a small portion of the damaged crop,” observes the outdoors publication Wide Open Spaces, which to minimize a bear’s effects on crops recommends farmers maintain mowed-open lanes surrounding their fields, install electric fencing, and when the hunting season rolls around provide access to hunters.
Sajecki similarly suggested other means to deal with nuisance bears, including electric fencing where possible, especially around orchards and vineyards.
In other counties, farmers have turned to trap and relocation programs, although given the large bear populations in Rappahannock and neighboring Shenandoah National Park one can be certain there’s always another bear or two lurking in the wings.