CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — March 23 is World Bear Day, and as the weather heats up, residents of West Virginia are more likely to have an encounter with the state animal, the black bear.
West Virginia has a population of about 1.7 million people and about 13,000 bears, so the odds of you spotting one are not super high but possible in all 55 counties and even in town. According to the West Virginia University Extension Service, while black bears are most likely to live in the eastern mountain counties, they are also known to live within a few miles of cities. A 2021 study where bears wore tracking collars found that they lived within three miles of city limits of several cities across West Virginia, including Charleston, Morgantown and Beckley.
Since last summer, residents of north central West Virginia have reported several bear sightings to 12 News, including a cub that was captured hanging out on a porch in White Hall, a bear that was monitored by law enforcement in Bridgeport earlier this year and a bear that was caught on film in Anmoore over the summer.
WBOY’s sister station WOWK also reported that one was seen in the South Hills neighborhood of Charleston, West Virginia in December.
In the 1970s, bears were sparse in West Virginia, with an estimated population of fewer than 500 in 10 counties, but now, 50 years later, bear hunting harvests more than that annually—1,727 in 2022, 2,756 in 2021 and 3,541 in 2020. Although not a direct representation of county bear populations, counties that saw the most bear harvests over the past few years were Boone, Fayette, Randolph, Pocahontas and Nicholas.
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources usually receives more than 1,000 nuisance bear complaints every year, and according to WVU Extension, most bear encounters happen from May through August, but there’s an uptick starting in April.