AZGFD: Be 'bear aware' as first black bears of the season sighted

AZGFD: Be 'bear aware' as first black bears of the season sighted
Bear and cubs in the Huachuca Mountains. (Source: Arizona Game and Fish Department)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - If you like to spend time outdoors hiking, picnicking, or just enjoying the cooler weather in the mountains, the Arizona Game and Fish Department is asking you to be "bear aware," as the first black bears of the season have been sighted.

According to AZGFD black bears emerge from a state of semi-hibernation known as torpor in March. Males generally emerge before females, drinking water and possibly eating grass to resume the digestive process.

"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, in a news release on Monday, April 9. "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."

Residents are asked to store their garbage in a secure garage or shed until the morning of collection, to help eliminate the chances of a bear visit.  If there is no ready food source, like the garbage, it will likely move on.  Campers should remember the following things:

  • Never take food into a tent,
  • use deodorizing sprays if storing food in cars when a bear-proof box is not available on-site,
  • clean themselves off thoroughly after cooking as well as change clothes afterward because garments may have lingering odors.

According to the AZGFD fencing, lighting and even dogs have not been found to be effective in the long term to deter bears when food is available. If a fence is the only option, remember that bears are good climbers and the fence should be at least six-feet tall and constructed of non-climbable material.

AZGFD spends considerable time and money moving problem bears each year, and sometimes this effort does not work for either the bears or homeowners, forcing some bears to be destroyed because they are deemed dangerous, have lost their fear of humans, or continually 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 a relocation area.

If a bear is in your yard or neighborhood or campground and refuses to leave, immediately contact AZGFD at 623-236-7201 24-hours a day and seven days a week.  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:

  1. Making yourself as large and imposing as possible. Stand upright and wave your arms, jacket or other items, and make loud noises.
  2. Do not run and never play dead.
  3. Give the bear a chance to leave the area.
  4. 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.

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, Pinal and Cochise counties. Violations can result in a fines ranging from $300 in Pima and Pinal counties, to $2,500 in Cochise County.

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