A 1-year-old black bear got a free lunch, a good nap and a trip back to the forest after wandering in a residential section of Payson Tuesday morning.
"At about 10 a.m., I was working in the garage when my dogs started making a lot of noise," said Paul LaBonte, who lives in the South Manzanita Drive neighborhood invaded by the bear. "A friend went out and looked and, sure enough, there was a bear, about 65 or 70 feet away in our neighbor's back yard."
The bear had torn a garbage can apart, LaBonte said, and was "spreading garbage all over the place. So we called the Payson Police Department, and they called Game and Fish.
"The bear wasn't excited or anything. I threw it some apples, hoping it would eat them and not roam off until the Game and Fish people came."
The ploy worked. About 25 minutes after LaBonte's initial phone call, Arizona Game and Fish officers Darren Tucker and Scott Poppenberger arrived on the scene and took over.
"He was a yearling and real thin as most of the bears are this year because there's not much forage out there," Tucker said. "That's why we've had so many bears come down from the mountains lately."
The bear weighed about 60 pounds, which Tucker said was not too far from normal weight for its age. "He was not emaciated, but he was definitely on the thin side.
"He had a lot of healing wounds and scratches all over his body. In our estimation, it looked like an older, more mature bear got hold of him and roughed him up pretty good. That happens to young bears striking out on their own, but luckily, he escaped that.
"The Payson Police Department was really helpful in keeping an eye on him until we got there," Tucker said. "We just went behind the house and darted" the bear, injecting the animal with the tranquilizer Telazol which, the officer added, "is really good for bears because you can't overdose them with it."
Because of the bear's injuries, Tucker and Poppenberger transported the sedated creature to the Star Valley Veterinary Clinic.
"The doctor was gracious enough to help us out," Tucker said. "He X-rayed (the bear) a couple of times and determined there were no serious injuries or broken bones. Then he gave him an injection of a long-lasting antibiotic for some of the wounds, which looked a little infected.
"We have him now in a bear culvert trap with food and water. We ear-tagged him he'd never been captured before and probably tomorrow (Wednesday) he will be released to go on his way."
Tucker said the Game and Fish Department interacts with the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management to determine into which pre-approved designated forest area captured bears should be released.
Record year for urban bears
Talking to Arizona Game and Fish Department spokesperson Pat O'Brien, it doesn't seem like the sight of a bear in central Payson would be anything that would cause Rim country locals to blink twice.
In the Game and Fish Mesa Region, which includes Payson, 46 bears have been caught within the last year, O'Brien said.
"That's a record. We've had a record across the state, too. We've handled approximately 120 bears statewide this year," he said.
Of those catches, he said, "somewhere between 25 and 30 were found in Payson. That's been a hot spot ... And while all bears usually show up at campgrounds, this year it's been almost all urban bears. We've caught 20 in Phoenix, and that's unheard of. It's been a bizarre year for bears."