'Extraordinary' bear sightings has officials putting out warning - Tucson News Now

'Extraordinary' bear sightings has officials putting out warning

(Source: Tucson News Now) (Source: Tucson News Now)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Arizona Game and Fish Department officials said they don't have the tools available to track every animal deemed dangerous, so they rely on people in the community.

Using the 24-hour dispatch line of (623) 236-7201, they were able to learn about a bear roaming the La Paloma community in the Catalina Foothills.

Whether it's a severe or subdued concern about wildlife acting strangely, Kandis Glavin has heard it all. She's a customer service representative at the Department's Tucson office on Greasewood Road on Tucson's west side.

"We have to be sympathetic and know when it's serious and when it's not, or if it's serious to somebody but may not be serious to another person. So we do have to be sympathetic in that matter," she said.

The nine-year veteran of the Game and Fish Department takes numerous calls every day about wildlife sightings in southern Arizona. 

"We get their name, phone number, where exactly they saw the wild animal, and ask what is it doing?" she said.

Each call prepares her for the time when something more severe happens, to make sure the crisis doesn't slip through the cracks. 

For example, since May 1, there were bear sightings in Patagonia, Rio Rico, Saddlebrooke, on the Arizona Trail, and in the Catalina Foothills.

If it seems like it's happening so frequently right now, it is, said Mark Hart, Public Information Officer for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

"May has been an extraordinary month for us," he said. "We don't have a good reason for that."

Hart said bears in highly populated areas typically find their way out, having been scared off by humans. 

"In the case of female bears or young bears, we often move them away from populated areas to less-populated areas hoping that the behavior of being a garbage bear or a dumpster bear will change."

50 percent of the time those bears return to place they were removed from and resume bad behavior, Hart said.

One bear, shot and killed after it charged an officer in La Paloma on Wednesday, May 24, had been moved in July 2016 from Greer to north of Globe, Hart said. It made its way to the Catalinas, as opposed to back where it came from, reportedly peered into an occupied cabin, and tried to access a dumpster at a parking lot in Marshall Gulch Trail Head, before working its way down the mountains.

Hart said the bear found in Patagonia had to be killed, as well, because it "repeatedly" went to a home with a beehive and and a hen house, and tore the hive apart. Hart said that officials were concerned the bear had developed a familiarity in the neighborhood and "wouldn't re-adapt to the wild if they tried to relocate it."

When asked why more and more bears are leaving the higher elevations to come to heavily populated areas so early in the year, Hart cited the early start to summer heat. But he said the research wasn't conclusive.

"They're desperately in search of food, water, and shelter. Particularly water. This is a little early," he said, talking about how they usually have more bear sightings in June. "And if you look at the conditions up on Mount Lemmon, it's lush, it's green, there's water up there. So we don't entirely understand it."

Tracking them isn't so easy, and the Game and Fish Department relies on calls from the public. Their tracking ability is limited by resources.

"We had no way of knowing that the bear had moved into a heavily populated residential community without calls from the public and the press," Hart said on Thursday, May 25.

He said it's "impractical" and expensive to put GPS tracking collars on every wild animal they find. Right now, he believes they have GPS collars on less than 50 Bighorn Sheep in southern Arizona, and about 1 in 3 Pronghorn Antelope, because they are an endangered species. But the battery life on those collars only lasts about two to three years, and they cost about $2,000 to $3,000 per collar.

He said they get great info from the field using trail cameras, and that their data is just as effective. It's more "passive" and less aggressive with animals, Hart said, citing an example where they attempted to put a collar on a jaguar. It had aging health, and the tranquilizer led to complications so they had to euthanize the animal.

Trail cameras cost the department anywhere from $80 to a couple hundred dollars.

The complex tracking system that some people may hope for is about as simple as the hard-working men and women in the offices fielding calls from the public.

"We don't have the manpower to go out and search for one coyote that they saw wandering around. It's just not possible," Glavin said. 

She likes knowing she's making a difference, no matter the severity of the call.

"I like to know that something I told somebody really changed their perspective on wildlife."

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