News & Politics

What’s With All the Bears Around DC Lately?

You've got bear sightings. We've got some answers.

Photographs courtesy of iStock/Getty Images Plus. Photo illustration by Andrew Beaujon.

Theodore Roosevelt Island was closed Tuesday morning because of yet another bear sighting, according to Fox5 reporter Steve Chenevey:

Let’s do a quick inventory of recent bear activity around the nation’s capital, shall we?

• April 26: Bear spotted in Kensington

• June 8: Bear spotted in Beltsville shopping center. A bear seen that same day in Hyattsville.

• June 9: The now famous bear-in-Brookland event.

• June 13: Bear in Rockville.

• June 19: Bear or bears in Arlington.

It’s clearly time to push up our sports jacket sleeves like a ’90s standup comedian and ask: What’s the deal with all these bears?

The culprit is June, says Jonathan Trudeau, the Black Bear & Co-Deer Project Leader for the Wildlife & Heritage Service of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Yearlings (“They’re kind of the teenagers of the bear world,” Trudeau says) go out into the world looking for a home of their own. The bear term of art is “dispersing.” It’s also mating season, which means male bears may push females around or give the bum’s rush to other, weaker males.

The black-bear population in western Maryland is very healthy, Trudeau says, which means all this drama is heading eastward. And while bear sightings are hardly worth mentioning in a lot of the region, we city folk are more likely to call the TV news when we see one. “When they get out that way, they generate a lot more calls, they gather a lot of attention more quickly than they might in other parts of the state,” he says. 

So, now you’ve seen a bear, my fellow urbanite. What next? First, make sure it’s alone, Trudeau says. You don’t want to get between a sow and her cubs. Bad idea! Don’t approach the bear. Do you really need to read Washingtonian for that advice? If you do, good luck with the rest of your tasks today. Make some noise: Clap, bang a pot with a spoon, that sort of thing. Try to make yourself look more imposing. It’s kind of like dating via app, as I understand it.

If bears are in your neighborhood, take extra care with your dog when you let him out to pee in the backyard at night: Turn on a light, and put Fido on a long leash. Also, if bears are in your nabe, take down your bird feeder: “Birds do not need birdseed this time of year to survive,” Trudeau says. Take in your garbage, too: “We see trash as a byproduct, and bears see trash as a buffet.”

Bears that end up in urban areas are, as a rule, pretty freaked out by the mess they’ve gotten themselves into. “Generally if a bear gets into downtown DC, that bear is likely just trying to find a way out,” Trudeau says. Things get worse when thrill-seekers go looking for the bear so they can post pictures online–see the above note. Bears will climb a tree because “That’s its safe spot.”  

If naturalists in your jurisdiction can’t scare the bear off, they may relocate it, which in Maryland often means using tranquilizer darts, then moving the bear into a six-by-four-foot trap that Trudeau says is a “perfect little enclosure” for our ursine friends, then loading the trap into the back of a pickup and driving it to more congenial environs. That sounds like it would be pretty cool to see on the highway, Washingtonian ventured to Trudeau, who confirmed that is it is indeed cool. 

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.