Keep Wintergreen Wild

Black bears are highly intelligent animals with an incredible sense of smell. They can smell potential food sources over great distances. They are opportunists, always looking for easy calories. This often leads hungry bears to dumpsters, garbage cans, or kitchens. When bears learn that garbage means food, they come back to it again and again, learning to associate humans and homes with food.

Garbage is unhealthy for bears. Their natural diet consists of berries, vegetation, roots, insects, grubs, mast (edible seed or fruit produced by trees and shrubs), and carrion. Garbage can cause injuries such as cuts and ingestion of harmful plastics, glass, or chemicals, as well as changing their natural behavior around people.

Once a bear is conditioned to eat garbage and other unnatural foods, the solutions all too often are fatal to the bear. Relocation can be unsuccessful, dangerous, and expensive, leaving an unfortunate solution of killing the “problem” bear.

One of the reasons bears and people come into contact at Wintergreen is improper care of garbage and other attractants such as bird feeders. Bears will not change their tendency to seek out easy meals so we must change our behavior. Make it your responsibility to make Wintergreen safer for human and bear residents.

If a bear is threateningpersistent, or aggressive call Wintergreen police at 434-325-8520.

For emergencies call 911.

About Bears Around The House

Properly storing or securing residential garbage and other bear attractants is a proven method for discouraging bears and preventing nuisance problems around homes.

The following items attract bears:
• garbage cans
• pet food
• compost piles
• bird feeders
• wildlife feeders
• BBQ grills
• petroleum products
• fruit/nut trees
• perfumed items (soap, suntan lotion, deodorant, etc)

Garbage– Store garbage inside until you are able to properly dispose of it. Ensure bins are properly sealed. Wash and clean cans, jars, and recycling where appropriate. Do not throw cooking oil or grease outside.

Compost – Use a proper compost bin. Turn your compost regularly; cover compost with leaves, lime, and soil to reduce odors. Don not put meat, fish, fat, oils, eggshells, or cooked food in your compost.

Yards and Property – Follow these guidelines to keep bears from becoming a problem around your home.
• Virginia’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries strongly recommends that no one feed birds from April 1 to December 1. If a bear visits your birdfeeder during the winter months, remove the feeder for at least 2 weeks. If the bear visits your feeder again after removing the feeder, remove the birdfeeder permanently.
• Clean barbecues after use. Cover and store indoors. (Do NOT take propane tanks indoors.)
• Never leave garbage bags, regardless of content, in your yard.
• Lock your car doors. Bears can open the doors. Never leave garbage bags or any other food sources in your car.
• Don’t store food in outdoor freezers.
• Don’t leave coolers or other items that may contain food smells in your yard.
• Keep first floor windows and windows accessible from decks shut.

Homeowner’s checklist

Step 1.  Bear-proof your home…

Garbage – Keep garbage in the house, garage, shed until it can be taken to the dumpsters.

Bird Food – Do not feed birds from April 1 to December 1. If a bear visits your birdfeeder during the winter months, remove the feeder for at least 2 weeks. If after the two-week period of time, the bear visits your feeder again, remove the birdfeeder permanently. Keep ground free from seeds. Store extra bird food indoors.

Barbeque – Burn off the grill after each use and store in a secure area.

Pet Food – Bring pet dishes inside and clean up any spillage. Store pet food indoors.

Windows and doors – Close all first floor windows every evening or when leaving the house. Close any windows accessible from a deck every evening or when leaving the house. Secure your doors well.

Step 2. If you see a bear at your home…

Stay Calm. Remain calm and don’t panic. Often the bear is simply looking for food and will move on if it finds nothing to eat.

Keep Away. Keep away from the bear and go inside and bring children and pets indoors. Shut all accessible windows.

Don’t Approach. Never approach the bear and do not run away. Don’t act submissively by crouching down or whispering.

Warn Others. Warn others of the bear’s presence, without yelling.

If the bear climbs a tree… If the bear climbs a tree, keep people and pets away. When things quiet down the bear will come down and leave. Once the bear is safely out of the area, check the area to ensure there are no attractants available.

Learn about eMammel Wildlife Camera Tracking research at The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen. [Click here]

About Bears When hiking

Do not surprise a black bear:

•  Hike in a group, most bears will leave an area once aware of your presence

•  Stay on established hiking trails and hike during daylight

•  Keep children close and within sight

•  Use extra caution when hiking near rushing water, into the wind or in the rain. A bear may not be able to hear or smell you coming.

Be alert! – Watch for signs such as tracks, droppings, diggings, torn-up logs and scratched trees, which may indicate a bear is nearby.

Use caution near natural bear foods – Blueberries, fruit trees, and dead animals are examples of food sources. If you come upon these items, use caution.

Dog safety – Your dog should be on a leash and never left unattended.

Watch for cubs – Bears become aggressive if they feel their young are threatened. Never get between a mother and her cubs.

Cyclists! – Your speed and quietness can put you at risk for sudden bear encounters. Slow down through shrubbed areas and when approaching blind curves. Be alert and always look ahead.

If You Encounter a Bear while Hiking

Despite taking precautions, an encounter with a bear may occur. Remember that bears are complex intelligent animals and no two encounters are alike. Below are a few guidelines that can minimize your risk in bear encounter.

Stay calm – Think ahead and plan how to respond if you should encounter a bear.

Don’t run – A black bear can easily outrun you. Running may also trigger an attack response. Pickup small children and stay in a group to make yourself less vulnerable.

Leave the area or make a wide detour – If you cannot leave, wait until the bear moves out of the way and ensure the bear has an escape route.

The bear may approach or rear up on its hind legs – Bears are curious and is most likely trying to catch your scent. This is not necessarily a sign of aggression. Back away slowly.

Don’t drop objects, clothing, or food to distract the bear – Rewarding a bear for aggressive behavior will increase the likelihood that it will repeat that behavior.

Watch for aggressive behaviors – A bear may display aggression in the following ways: swing it’s head from side to side, making vocalizations such as huffs, snorts, whoops or moans, displaying teeth or claws, jaw popping, swatting at the ground, staring with eye contact, panting, or laying it’s ears back. These behaviors indicate the bear is stressed, acting defensively, and/or asking for more space. This is the most common kind of black bear aggressive encounter.

For more information

     • Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has an entire section of their website devoted to black bear biology and management practices, including a 20-minute video entitled Living with Black Bears in Virginia. Click to visit the DGIF website.

     • Good resource: The book Living with Bears: A Practical Guide to Bear Country by Linda Masterson, 2006.

Read the December 2010 feature article about Wintergreen’s Bear Smart program. [PDF]

By Josh Palumbo

To be in the center of a bullseye is never the desired location. Whether you are a deer during hunting season or a soldier in war, the bullseye is the place to avoid. It appears Wintergreen and the surrounding locales have found themselves squarely in the proverbial bullseye of a tick borne epidemic.

A cohort of Wintergreen residents, as well as a few in the Rockfish Valley area, have found themselves being poked and prodded by immunologists at UVA due to allergic reactions to tick bites or more specifically the Lone Star tick. To make things worse, the cause of the allergic reaction…red meat. To those non-vegetarians, a perfectly cooked medium-rare steak is divine. To these residents, it has caused symptoms ranging from vomiting, cramps, hives and even anaphylaxis. How can a tick cause the human body to reject a beloved food source? The answer is a sugar known as alpha-gal, found in all non-primate mammals including some of our favorite food sources such as cows, pigs and sheep.

Studies of the alpha-gal allergy began in Australia in the late 1990’s due to strange cases of anaphylaxis caused by their local culprit, the paralysis tick. The allergy was found in central Virginia in 2006 by UVA allergy specialist Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills. He discovered the tick connection while studying severe allergic reactions to the drug cetuximab, in which the alpha-gal sugar was present. They moved towards ticks as the culprits when they noticed that only cancer patients from the southeastern “tick-belt” states had the reaction. They began questioning patients on tick exposure and the link was made. Dr. Platts-Mills became a case study himself after a fateful hike in the Blue Ridge. He returned to find lone star tick larvae attached to his ankles and sure enough he tested positive for the antibodies to alpha-gal. Months later after a meal of lamb he awoke to a covering of hives.

Researchers believe the allergy develops as follows: the tick bites and injects alpha-gal into the body which causes our immune system to release immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. These antibodies prompt the release of histamines to fight the allergen. A few weeks later, the person eats red meat. For a few hours, nothing happens. Then, hives appear followed by swelling on the face, a drop in blood pressure and in some cases, anaphylaxis. The body, which had been sensitized to alpha-gal by the tick bite, overreacted to the meat’s alpha-gal and flooded the body with IgE antibodies. The reaction is delayed by 3-6 hours because alpha-gal is most concentrated in animal fat, which takes hours to digest.

The alpha-gal allergy does not develop in every person bitten by the lone star tick. Researchers are still investigating a variety of correlating factors among those with the allergy. One connection is genetic predisposition. Cases seem to run in families. The UVA researchers have father-daughter pairs, mother-son and sets of cousins in the case study thus suggesting a link to a genetic inclination. A Wintergreen resident with the allergy suggested a correlation between those with severe reactions to mosquito bites with those affected by the allergy at Wintergreen.

How is a property owner at Wintergreen to respond to the fact we have a new tick born ailment in our midst?

From an individual perspective, showing due diligence when we enter the environment is a good start. Here are some smart ways to lessen your chances for an encounter with the lone star tick: wear light colors, tuck your pants into your socks, use a Permethrin tick-repellant product, do a thorough skin check when you come inside, and wash the clothes you had on once you finish your excursion.

From a community perspective, the deer population rise needs to be restrained and brought to more sustainable numbers. The main carriers of the lone star tick are deer and turkey. Deer, being the primary vector at Wintergreen, are at their highest population level since 2007 in Stoney Creek. Last year’s bumper acorn crop and the suspension of the deer removal program at Wintergreen have coincided to create a burgeoning deer population in the valley. Three Wintergreen residents have developed the meat allergy on tiny Blue Chicory Lane alone. This suggests the environment is supporting pockets of robust populations of deer and thus the lone star tick.

Research shows deer herd reduction measures that remove less than 50% of the estimated population typically do not provide significant relief from density-related problems (Creacy, 2006). The Nature Foundation does a semi-annual deer survey focusing on the developed portion of Wintergreen which constitutes approximately 5,000 acres. Using development acreage at Wintergreen, Wintergreen has approximately 283 deer in the developed community. WPOA has been advised that 50% of the population should be targeted for removal (140 deer), with the focus being entirely on Stoney Creek.

Being in the bullseye is the problem. The obvious solution is to get out of the bullseye. A step in the right direction for Wintergreen is to lower the deer population in the development. In addition, each property owner is to show due diligence on each excursion into the environment. These efforts are excellent ways to slow the spread of the alpha-gal allergy in our community.

For more information on tick safety, read our Hiking Tips article below.


Thanks to the foundation staff and volunteers, our trails are typically reasonably clear so hikers here can greatly reduce their chance of getting ticks by staying on the trail. (Yes, hiking in the winter is even a more surefire way of avoiding ticks.)

Backpacker magazine has some good basic tips for hikers on avoiding ticks. In this part of Virginia, minimizing your contact with high grass, brush and woody shrubs is wise.  And, deet does work against ticks. Wear light clothing, long pants and tuck in cuffs.

But, if you’re outside in the spring or summer, you’re likely to have some ticks. A tick check after hiking is a must. Parents should check their children. Look carefully. Little-nymphs, which spread Lyme disease far more than adults, are often smaller than a tiny freckle.

“If you find a tick attached to your skin, there’s no need to panic. There are several tick removal devices on the market, but a plain set of fine-tipped tweezers will remove a tick quite effectively,” says the Center for Disease Control’s website.

How to remove a tick

  • Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
  • Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
  • After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.

More on removing ticks HERE 

Spring has arrived and with spring comes an increase of activity among our wildlife friends. It is the mating, nesting, foraging, and spawning season for all types of critters. It is hard for us humans not to notice the frenzied unusual behaviors. Many of these activities do not require our interventions, but sometimes accidents happen and we may not know what to do. With a little advice, you can successfully give aid to an animal in need. The first step is to know the local wildlife rescue groups and their contact information. Rockfish Wildlife Center, Wintergreen’s closest Wildlife Rescue and hospital is located in Shipman. Their hotline phone numbers are  434-263-4954 or 434-962-7429. The Wildlife Center of Virginia, which is located in Waynesboro has a 24 hour hotline at 540-942-9453. Having these phone numbers handy makes the difference saving an animal’s life. They will walk you through the proper procedure in rescuing an injured or orphaned animal. Each type of animal at different stages of their lives require different care. On the Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary’s website you can learn exactly how and when to intervene with a possible injured or orphaned animal.  Below is their website link, so get acquainted with the spring activities and wildlife issues by reading their very informative advice and make a difference in keeping our wildlife alive and wild!