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Bear road kills in Virginia are increasing as the animals cross highways looking for food.
Fifty-eight bears have killed on Virginia roads this year, up from 38 in both 2009 and 2011, said Jaime Sajecki, the black bear project leader with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
The statistics could be incomplete because some people take the carcasses with them and some hits are not reported, she said.
“For sure, we've had a lot more bears hit, bears seen, bears in trash cans, bird feeders,” Sajecki told The Daily News-Record.
A shortage of acorns, a staple in a bear's diet, has prompted the animals to venture farther into human civilization looking for food than in most years. Bear sightings also have been more frequent.
A mother bear and three cubs appeared in Harrisonburg in October. Game and Inland Fisheries tranquilized the bears after they ran up a tree and relocated them.
“There just has not been food for them anywhere,” Sajecki said.
Lois Rhodes encountered a bear at her Cootes Store home after returning from a visit to her brother's cabin in Bergton last month.
“It was starting to rain. It was already dark. I went to get my clothes off, then I heard my chickens making these terrible noises that I'd never heard before,” she told the newspaper. “I knew something was wrong and there stood a big bear. I guess I was excited, maybe it looked bigger than it really was.”
Sajecki said reports from Virginia's five game department districts indicate a recent decline in bear sightings because the animals are going to their dens early for hibernation.
“They'll just kind of pack it in and call it quits for the winter,” she said. “There's a certain point where bears stop looking for food. For them it's all energy out, energy in.”
Bears can lose 30 percent of their bodyweight during hibernation.
“If they go in skin and bones, a lot of them won't make it,” she said.