Bear Safety In The Shenandoah Valley

Bear In a Campground

Why is Bear Safety Important

Black Bears can be commonly seen in the Shenandoah National Park and surrounding areas. Most wildlife encounters occur without impact to the visitor or the animal. But occasionally interactions with bears pose a risk to people, personal property, or the animal itself.

Bears are hungry and are always on the prowl for their next dinner. Unfortunately, because they have learned that food can be found near people camping, additional measures must be taken to ensure the safety of your group and the bears.

The Shenandoah National Park uses multiple strategies to separate bears from humans, but unfortunately if a bear becomes too comfortable with humans, they may have to be put down.

Your assistance in properly storing your food will help ensure the safety of the bears that call the Shenandoah National Park, Shenandoah Valley, and George Washington National Forest home.

How to Hang A Bear Bag

Bear Bag Hanging
Hanging A Bear Bag

While camping in the backcountry of the Shenandoah Valley or anywhere bears are present, all food, trash, and toiletries with scent should be properly secured. Bear bags usually consist of two items: a Waterproof Dry Bag and 50 to 100 feet of cord. The bag should be hung from a tree limb or bear pole that will allow the bag to be hung at least 12 feet above the ground, 5 feet from the tree limb and 5 feet from the tree trunk. To get the cord over the limb consider tieing one end to a stick or rock and throwing it over while holding the other end of the line.

In addition to the dry bag to protect your food items from moisture, Scent Lock bags such as OPSak, also limit the ability of the bears (or other wildlife) from smelling your breakfast for the morning.

How to Protect Yourself from Black Bears

Black Bears can be found almost anywhere in the Shenandoah Valley. You could see one from your car, while taking a hike, near your camp site, or when you least expect it.

If you spot a black bear, use these tactics to stay safe:

  • Maintain a distance of at least 50 yards (45 meters) from the bear.
  • Make noise so the bear knows you are nearby. A bear bell is a good solution if you are alone.
  • Keep children close by.
  • Re-route your trip to maintain a minimum of 50 yards from the bear.
  • If close-by, consider retreating to your vehicle until the bear moves on.
  • If the bear moves toward you or your group, retreat slowly, but don’t turn your back to the bear.
  • If it continues to approach, use Bear Pepper Spray to prevent an imminent attack or if you have no escape route, stand tall, wave your arms, yell, clap, and throw rocks to deter the bear.

How to stay safe while cooking or eating outside in Bear Territory

Bears are often attracted to the smell of food so extra safety is necessary when storing, cooking, or disposing of food items. The park rangers in the Shenandoah National Park aggressively enforce food storage rules at the campgrounds and picnic areas. Here are a few tips to keep you and the bears safely apart:

  • Never feed bears (or other wild animals), it teaches them to associate humans with food.
  • Only take out the food you will be using for your current meal.
  • Be prepared to pack-up your food quickly in the event there is a bear spotted in the vicinity.
  • Don’t leave food, garbage, and coolers in the open or unattended. (It’s an expensive ticket if you get caught!)
  • Use hard sided food storage lockers or bear poles where provided. If no other options are available, hang your food from a tree limb as discussed above.
  • Dispose of garbage in bear resistant trashcans and dumpsters.

What is a Bear Resistant Container?

Bear Vault with Food
Bear Vault with Food

Bear-resistant containers such as the Bear Vault BV450 or BV500 are designed to protect their contents from bears which may try to get inside. Similar in concept to the child-proof pill bottle, the lid of the container is easy for a human to remove, but nearly impossible for bears. Many national parks and areas where bears are common require the use of a bear canister. Bear Vaults take up a fair amount of room in a pack so many backpackers are not a huge fan, but if they are required its better to be safe than sorry.

  • Ensure your container is approved for your intended use; for example the Bear Vault model has approval from both the Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group and Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.
  • Store the Bear-Resistant container at least 100 yards downwind of your campsite and in the shade to keep the contents cool.

What else should you know?

If a bear charges…

Don’t Run!!  Bears will often make bluff charges to try to intimidate its rival. Sometimes, they will approach as close as 10 ft. If you hold your ground, it will often back off.

Don’t Run!! Bears can run up to 35 mph and can easily outrun a person.

If a bear attacks…

Fight Back!! On rare occasions bears consider humans prey and attack. Fight back with a focus on the bear’s nose and eyes.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many bears live in the Shenandoah National Park?

It is estimated that the number of bears living in the Shenandoah National Park range from several hundred to up to a thousand. In the state of Virginia it is estimated that the Black Bear population is between 5,000 and 6,000.

How long do black bears live?

Black bears have very few natural predators and can live up to 30 years in an un-hunted area.