Bears Roaming Closer To Homes

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Bear/human conflicts are becoming common occurrences on the high desert plateaus near Roosevelt Lake.

The most recent run-in between man and animal happened last week when Arizona Game and Fish Manager Ron Horejsi of Tonto Basin was called to remove a yearling seen roaming through the Lake View Trailer Park.

Days earlier, and about 20 miles away, a resident of Roosevelt Estates shot and killed an adult bear outside his home when he found the animal eating out of a dog dish.

According to Horejsi, the incident at Lake View trailer park was a first for game officers. "That's the only bear we know has ever been there," he said.

While the bear shot by the homeowner had become a nuisance by breaking into at least one food freezer, the yearling hadn't gotten into any trouble, Horejsi said. However, the game officer predicted that if he hadn't removed the animal, the bear would have begun creating problems for himself and the residents of the park.

Horejsi was first told that a bear was in the area by trailer park homeowners.

"Everybody (in the park) was seeing it," the game officer said.

Traps were set, but when they weren't successful, Horejsi spent a day scouting the area and soon found the young animal holed up under a mobile home.

"It was a nice cool shady area. That's what he was looking for," Horejsi said.

Using a tranquilizing dart gun, the game officer was able to subdue the bear and cage it for travel. Horejsi transported the animal about 50 miles north to Pine Mountain where it was released into the wild.

The Pine Mountain area is one of several Game and Fish designated release sites where officers can take animals that have been removed from populated areas.

Horejsi said he chose the site because it is far enough away from the trailer park to ensure the yearling doesn't find his way back. Returning to previous homes is a common behavior among young bears, the game official said.

Payson area Game and Fish Wildlife Manager Carl Lutch said the Pine Mountain location would afford the yearling a much better natural habitat than Tonto Basin.

"That area is pretty marginal for bears," he said.

Horejsi said he and fellow wildlife officers are fairly certain they know why the yearling was roaming Lake View Park.

Female bears cut yearlings loose in the spring and those bears often have trouble establishing territories of their own, he said. They often end up making their livings in campgrounds and trailer parks where the pickings are easy and plentiful.

Horejsi suspects that's probably what happened with the bear that he removed from Lake View. He said the animal may have migrated from his birthplace in the Superstition Mountain range and was drawn to the park by the abundance of food.

Since the park is near Roosevelt Lake, many homeowners and weekenders fish for bass, crappie and catfish.

Residents and visitors often clean their catches and leave fish guts, an attractive food for bears, outside and unknowingly attract bears and other animals to the area, Horejsi said.

Game officials stress that most bear/human conflicts occur because people are careless with trash, pet food and other food items.

In the case of the adult bear shot by the Roosevelt Estates homeowner, that bear was drawn into the area by dog food and garbage left in the open.

Game officials are still working to determine if the resident shot the bear legally, Game and Fish Administrative Specialist Pat O'Brien said.

According to state law, residents can kill an animal to defend their life or the life of another person.

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