An 80-pound black bear was captured and killed Sunday night, after roaming for hours through the Northwoods townhomes in north Payson.
"It's absolutely the worst part of the job," Field Supervisor Craig McMullen of the Arizona Game and Fish Department said, "but we have to err on the side of caution."
McMullen said he received a call at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, reporting that a 2-year-old black bear had been seen wandering through the townhome complex on North Beeline Highway. Two other bears had been caught in that same neighborhood since Aug. 13, he said.
"This bear had apparently been milling around for a couple of hours, and at one point, actually walked up to an open screen door and looked in," he said. "I guess barking dogs kept it from trying to get in, though."
Residents reported that the bear had gotten into garbage cans and several bird feeders before officers arrived. McMullen said Payson police officers tried for several hours to scare the bear back into the forest, but were unsuccessful.
"Eventually, it jumped onto the roof of a condo, then onto a tree," McMullen said. "I (shot it with a tranquilizer dart) and got it out of the tree. Because of its behavior failure to leave, despite extensive hazing, and because it was active in daylight it was judged the bear could pose a potential threat to humans, and I had to destroy it."
With the extreme drought conditions that still exist in the forest, Game and Fish officials said wildlife will continue to move closer to inhabited areas in search of food. In addition to the drought, McMullen said last year was an outstanding year for bear cub survival, which means there's an increasing number of young bears looking for a place to live.
"This is not a bear problem; it's a people problem," McMullen said. "We keep getting reports of these yearling males who come to the edge of town, and they're finding what they're looking for an irresistible food source.
"People have got to be responsible in keeping bears out of their neighborhoods," he said. "Instead, residents leave their garbage cans out, leave their dog dishes outside, hang their bird feeders too low. I don't know how many times I've heard of bird feeders getting knocked down, and the homeowner just picks it up, refills it and hangs it back in the same place. In order to have any effect on keeping bears out of neighborhoods, you have to have 100-percent buy-in from the entire community, or the bear will not leave."
Researchers for the Game and Fish Department came up with a list of do's and don'ts for people who live in bear country. Following these recommendations will discourage bear visits that put humans and bears at risk.
Never leave your garbage out overnight. Store it inside the garage or locked in a shed until the day of collection.
Keep your pet food inside. The interviews indicated that pet food may not directly attract bears, but if a bear is in your neighborhood eating garbage, it might stop by for a snack of dog chow.
Hang your bird feeders on a wire between two trees at least eight feet above the ground so a bear can't reach them. Never hang your bird feeder on the porch.
Keep barbecues clean and pick fruits and vegetables as they ripen. These items could attract many kinds of animals. Bears have been seen eating from fruit trees in some Arizona neighborhoods. If you remove the attractant, you are removing a potential problem.
Most fences do not stop bears, so don't count on a fence to keep a bear from your garbage. Residents reported that barking dogs and motion-sensitive lights do not deter bears either.
If you spot a bear in your neighborhood, contact your local law enforcement agency.