TUCSON, Ariz. – The Arizona Game and Fish Department is asking for the public to be “black bear aware” following the first sightings of the season near the Peppersauce Campground and on Ft. Huachuca.
A black bear was sighted within 100 feet of the campground approximately 7 p.m. Sunday, February 16. The campers abandoned the camp and reported the sighting. In addition, a hunter reported sighting a female bear and cub on Ft. Huachuca in January.
Bears have been observed sporadically during the winter months in southeastern Arizona, suggesting that warmer weather may have shortened annual hibernations, from which black bears typically emerge in March, usually males before females.
In addition, consecutive dry winters and intermittent seasonal rains, coupled withlingering environmental impacts from the Monument and Horseshoe Two fires, suggest that there may be more cases of bears visiting residential areas this year.
“Bears in search of food are often attracted to homes and into proximity with people. This close contact puts both humans and bears at risk. Most conflicts are the result of people unintentionally feeding bears, most often by allowing them access to household garbage, bird feeders, garden areas or trees bearing fruit,” said Regional Supervisor Raul Vega of Game and Fish in Tucson. “Fed bears can lose their fear of humans and begin to associate humans with food, sometimes causing property damage and even injuring people. But conflicts between humans and bears are preventable.”
Since garbage stored outside is the biggest attractant, storing garbage in a secure garage or shed until the morning of collection will virtually eliminate the chances of a bear visit. If a bear does not find a food source, it will move on. Campers should never take food into a tent, use deodorizing sprays if storing food in cars when a bear-proof box is not available on-site, and clean themselves off thoroughly after cooking as well as change clothes afterward that may have lingering odors.
Fences, lighting and dogs have not been found to be effective, long-term deterrents when foods are available. Bears are good climbers, so to reduce a bear’s ability to get over a fence, it should be at least six feet tall and constructed of non-climbable material.
Recognizing the potential risk to both humans and bears, the Arizona Game and Fish Department spends considerable time and money each year relocating bears. Unfortunately, this effort does little for the bears or homeowners. Some bears must be destroyed because they are considered too dangerous, have lost their fear of humans, or continue to get into conflicts with people.
Following removal or relocation, the homeowner might experience more problems from a different bear if the identified attractant is not eliminated. Relocating a bear is also traumatic for the animal and does not guarantee it will live. Some are killed by larger, older bears that have established territory in an area.
If a bear is in your yard or neighborhood or campground and refuses to leave, immediately contact the Game and Fish office at 520-628-5376 or at 1-800-352-0700 evenings, weekend and holidays. Depending on what the bear is doing, department personnel may respond if it remains in the area.
If you see a bear in the distance, alter your route to avoid it. On the rare occasion that a bear approaches you, discourage it by:
• Making yourself as large and imposing as possible. Stand upright and wave your arms, jacket or other items, and make loud noises.
• Do not run and never play dead.
• Give the bear a chance to leave the area.
• If the bear does not leave, stay calm, continue facing it, and slowly back away.
The black bear is the only bear species found in the state. Although fur color varies and includes brown, cinnamon and blond, they are all considered black bears. It is the smallest and most widely distributed North American bear. Black bears:
• Weigh 125-400 pounds with males being larger than females
• Are three- to three-and-a-half feet tall when on all four feet
• Eat primarily acorns, berries, insects and cactus fruits
• Live in most forest, woodland and chaparral habitats, and desert riparian areas
• Roam an area of 7 to 15 square miles
• Produce two to three cubs born in January or February
• Live up to 25 years in the wild,
• Most active between dawn and dusk.
Bears are classified as big game animals in Arizona and are protected by state law. It is unlawful to feed wildlife, including bears, in Pima and Cochise counties. Violations can result in a fines ranging from $300 in Pima County to $2,500 in Cochise of up to $300.