It's Happening: BHS Grad and DNR Officer Ben Riley Talks Black Bears and New Fawns

By Julie Perine on June 05, 2017 from It’s Happening via Connect-Bridgeport.com

Thursday evening, dozens of Bridgeport residents shared a unique experience when a black bear was discovered in a yard on Archwood Avenue. After being dispatched, the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources followed procedure to get the 50-pound female bear - believed to be going on two years old - out of a tree and into a nearby rural area.
 
The following day, I talked with DNR Officer Ben Riley, who was very pleased with how the whole operation went. He told me some other stories too. Black bears are definitely around here this time of year. In fact, after he released the bear into the woods Thursday night, he went on another wildlife call – again, for a black bear. This time, one had been struck by a vehicle near the Briarwood housing development off Hinkle Lake Road. That incident didn’t have such a happy ending. The bear, an adult female, was badly injured and had to be put down. She was dry, Riley said. She had not been nursing cubs so none had been left behind. It’s always sad to lose a bear, but it’s a reminder of the full cycle of life, Riley said.
 
“That’s the reality of life. You save one and lose another,” he said.
 
Bears are hit by vehicles on a regular basis during the summer months – particularly on the interstate. Last summer, Riley pulled more than a dozen from I-79 between Anmoore and Bridgeport. So in addition to keeping your eyes peeled for deer while you are driving, watch for bears too.
 
It’s not unusual for the bears to wander into residential areas after catching a food scent. They can smell a food source from a mile away. And since berries – one of their staple foods – are not ripe yet in early- to mid-June, they might just follow that scent. If a bear wanders into your yard or neighborhood, Riley recommends contacting the DNR directly or through the local police or by calling 911.
“We’ll evaluate the situation and do what’s best for the bear,” he said. “Sometimes if it’s on the outskirts of town, we might recommend that everyone back off and stay quiet and in the middle of the night, it might go back home.”
 
That’s always the preferred option, but sometimes – such as Thursday night’s incident – it’s not always possible. When in a busy residential area, especially close to traffic, it’s best to relocate.
 
Bears aren’t the only wildlife concern this time of year. There are brand new fawns popping up all across the state - in tall grass, flower beds and other “hiding places.” Their mothers often leave them for hours while they feed and rest, attempting to draw predators away from their young. No matter how tempting it is to handle, feed or “rescue” the fawn, Riley said to absolutely – in every single case – leave it alone.
 
“You hear these baby deer crying and you want to help, but when you do, that’s tragic for the animal,” Riley said. “The new fawns do not have a scent, so dogs and coyotes can’t smell them. But if you handle them, you will put a scent on them, then predators can smell them.”
 
Overall, survival rates for new fawns are low as a number of things can happen – from they becoming prey to animals to adverse health issues. If the latter is the case, there’s a chance a mother won’t return for it.
 
It’s best, Riley said, to trust the mother’s instincts and to let Mother Nature take her course. Again, it’s the circle of life, Riley said.
 
A 1997 graduate of Bridgeport High School, Riley is most obviously passionate about his position with the Department of Natural Resources. His compassion for wildlife is genuine and he takes his job and its responsibilities very seriously.
 
I appreciate that and I thank him for educating us about one of our state’s most precious natural resources. 
 
After graduating from BHS, Riley studied biology and sociology at the University of  Wisconsin. After graduating from that program, he worked fro the Utah Division of Natural Resources as an officer. He also worked as a deputy in Colorado and Wisconsin. In 2010, he and his wife returned to West Virginia. (Photo second from bottom was taken during Riley's stint in Utah.)
 
Julie Perine can be reached at 304-848-7200, extension 2 or julie@connect-bridgeport.com. Follow @JuliePerine on Twitter. More "It's Happening" HERE.
 
Top two photos were taken Thursday night on Archwood Avenue in Bridgeport. Read more about that incident and see photos/video HERE. Bottom two photos are courtesy of Ben Riley. 


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