AmericanFarm.com

Bear damage tough on cornfields across Va.

By JANE W. GRAHAM
AFP Correspondent

(Sept. 22, 2015) Corn harvest time in Virginia has put a spotlight on the state’s greedy black bear population as farmers have found big circles of downed corn with ears stripped clean in their cornfields.
The damage is attributed to the bears., because the circles look like a bear or bears just sat down in the middle and reached out grabbing stalks in every direction as they ate their fill of the corn.
Since this is the busiest part of corn harvest in much of the state the overall extent of the damage is difficult.
Some people are making silage and others combining it for what grain is left.
According to Doug Horn, an Extension agent in Rockingham County, bear damage has been a problem in the county for several years.
He said it is hard to tell at this time if it is worse than in recent years.
Anecdotally, he said one of his neighbors has two or three acres of corn he is not going to try to combine because of bear damage.
He said Rockingham is located between the Blue Ridge Mountains on the east and the Allegheny Mountains on the west.
The Shenandoah River runs between these mountain chains and there is a lot of federally protected land in the area as well. All these factors make it a good place for bears to live.
Bill Kegley, head of Kegley Farms in Pulaski County is another farmer out large circular areas where the bear had been.
The corn stalks had been pulled down and the bears had been eating the ears clean. Kegley said his crew had found the damage when they started cutting corn for silage.
Kegley Farms planted about 450 acres of corn in several fields this year to feed its dairy and beef herds.
Like the people in Rockingham, some of his cornfields are at the foot of a mountain and near good bear habitat.
He did not have an estimate of the amount of damage as harvest was just getting underway.
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries offers some relief for farmers in the form of kill permits.
Information about obtaining these can be obtained from local conservation police, known to most folks as game wardens.
Except for 2010 and 2011, bear harvest statewide has increased year after year. In 2014, the harvest increased four percent from 2013 and last year almost 1,000 more bears were killed in Virginia than in 2005, according to DGIF data.
Rockingham, Augusta and Highland counties had the largest bear harvest in 2013 and 2014.
While the highest concentration of bears occurs in the Blue Ridge and Alleghany Mountains and around the Great Dismal Swamp in Southeast Virginia, bears can be seen just about anywhere in the state, DGIF reports.
According to data from recreational sightings, hunter harvest, road kills, and field staff, bears occur in at least 92 of Virginia’s 98 counties and cities.
From 2001-11, the most calls regarding bears the DGIF received, 63 percent, have been for non-agricultural/residential concerns. Agricultural-related calls came in at 16 percent issues.
In developed or residential areas, bear problems often center on damage to bird feeders, scavenging garbage cans, feeding on pet food, foraging at garbage dumps, automobile accidents and simple public sightings.
Agricultural problems include destruction of beehives, eating or destroying crops including corn and fruit trees, feeding on grain at livestock feeders, damage to trees, and killing livestock.