Prevent human-bear conflict in the White Mountains

PINETOP — The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) reminds residents and visitors that black bears are already moving through the forest and that human-bear encounters need to be anticipated.

Annually, AZGFD receives calls about bears around homes in the Pinetop region. Almost all of these calls had one common theme: bird feeders and trash. The greatest cause of human-bear conflict is bears becoming habituated to human food sources and garbage. In the wild, bears eat berries, nuts, grasses and insects. Bears are also attracted to human generated food sources like garbage, bird seed, hummingbird feeders, pet food and fruit trees.

When humans and bears share the same habitat, conflicts can arise. Although the occurrences of bears injuring humans is rare, it is important to be aware of potential interactions that can occur both in the forest and in human inhabited areas surrounding the forests.

Local municipalities, including the City of Show Low, the Town of Pinetop-Lakeside, and Navajo County have local ordinances for attracting bears, coyotes, or javelinas that can result in a criminal citation.

“We want bears to live in their natural habitat and not be attracted to town for an easy meal, both for the safety of the public and the bear. Bears have a much higher chance of survival if we don’t have to capture them for relocation. We don’t want to give citations for people not following the ordinances, but we will if we don’t have voluntary compliance,” says Justin Espino, wildlife manager for AZGFD.

Arizona has had one fatal bear attack, which occurred in Pinetop in 2011. However, there are numerous reports each year of bears in close proximity to humans that could lead to serious injury or even death.

Bears that become habituated to human-related food sources quickly lose their fear of humans and associate people and their dwellings with easy food sources.

The AZGFD spends considerable time and resources removing or relocating habituated bears to minimize the risk to people. However, removing a bear does not solve the problem. If the original bear attractant is not removed, another bear will likely move into the area. Also, approximately half of all bears that are removed travel great distances and return to the same area where it was captured.

Do your part to keep bears from posing a threat and needing to be removed:

•Keep all trash inside a secured area until collection day. If that’s not possible, keep food waste in a bag in the freezer and place those in the trash as close to collection time as possible.

•If you’ll be out of town or are a weekend visitor, ask a neighbor to place your trash out on collection day.

•Take bird feeders down at night.

•Keep pet food inside or remove all uneaten food.

AZGFD’s bear management policy was developed by wildlife biologists using science, research and best management practices. The policy uses four categories to classify bears based on behavior, age, sex, and threat to human safety. The policy clearly dictates the action that will be taken depending on these criteria. The public may be asked to remove the attractants; the bear may be captured or relocated; or, the bear may be lethally removed if it poses an immediate public safety threat.

More information can be found online at www.azgfd.com/Wildlife/LivingWith.

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