Many West Virginians don't realize it, but it's illegal to feed bears.
Every year, though, people do just that - and it almost always ends badly for the bears.
Bear feeding has been illegal since the 1980s, when videotapes of people hand-feeding bears at a Cabin Creek trash dump frightened lawmakers into passing a law prohibiting bear feeding of any sort.
Colin Carpenter, the state Division of Natural Resources' bear project leader, said people still feed bears in spite of the law.
"Some people will illegally set out food so they can get a closer look at this often secretive animal," he said. "However, these actions often lead to the destruction of the bear."
When bears find food, they tend to stay around until the food source dries up. When humans feed bears, the bears quickly lose their fear and often begin poking around people's houses in search of easy meals.
Wildlife officials used to try to trap these "nuisance bears" and relocate them to areas where there are fewer humans. Carpenter said the process was costly and often ineffective. Relocated bears - especially young males - have been known to travel more than 100 miles to return to a favored feeding spot.
Since 1977, the statewide bear population has mushroomed from an estimated 500 animals to roughly 12,000. Bears have been reported in all 55 counties. That creates a problem for DNR biologists who might seek to relocate nuisance animals.
"There is simply nowhere to move bears that have become a problem," Carpenter said.
Repeat offenders are dealt with harshly. Chris Ryan, the DNR's game management services supervisor, said the animals are usually killed before they can become a danger to the public.