Recent neighborhood encounters with wild bears in the Rim country and throughout the state serve as a constant reminder of the homeowners' need to bear-proof their homes.
Arizona Game and Fish Field Supervisor Craig McMullens said the current drought conditions are not the sole cause of the increased number of encounters with hungry bears.
"People are the primary cause for the bear escalating their behavior and the problems we're experiencing," McMullens said. "People need to manage their bird feeders, pet food and trash so bears can't get at them."
The bear problems we're currently having usually don't occur this time of year, but the drought conditions have worked to increase the number of bears coming close to towns in search of food.
A research study on bears conducted by Game and Fish in the Four Peaks area over the past four years has shown outstanding bear cub survival.
"Sows are setting their cubs loose and the drought creates problems for them as they search around to find a home range," McMullens said. Bears, by nature, are territorial and the overwhelming majority which Game and Fish officials have found have been yearling males.
McMullens explained a recent problem with a bear that was frequenting a residential neighborhood.
"It was still afraid of people and the bear was not responding to our traps and was instead feeding on trash," McMullens said. When bears get used to trash, they associate food with humans and lose their fear of humans. As a result, they often become dangerous and have to be destroyed.
McMullens said people need to notify Game and Fish immediately upon spotting a bear and they will do an assessment based on the bear's behavior and then decide on a plan of action. Authorities also strongly recommend that residents feed their pets indoors, and only feed what the pets will eat in one sitting.
Another recent Payson bear encounter is still being investigated in the Elk Ridge subdivision on the south side of town.
"What we suspect that bear of doing is bedding down on the Indian reservation and coming into the Elk Ridge area to feed," McMullens said.
"He's hitting a large area and we're waiting for him to circle around and find one of our traps."
Game and Fish experts say this is a prime example of the problems they are currently facing with bears.
"Night after night, people are talking about this bear getting into their garbage," McMullens said.
Each time the bear returns, he said, it easily finds more food.
"We've been highly successful in getting bears to move off if people will just control their garbage," he said.
Authorities have been following the young bear's behavior for over a week now. One of the local residents in that area said they think the bear has been in that area for more than two weeks.
Yet another recent sighting was on Payson's north side near the Airport.
"It was a young female cub that only weighed about 10 pounds," McMullens said. The young cub was caught, and will be nurtured by Game and Fish for the next year when they will then determine if it's healthy enough to be returned to the wilderness.
McMullens said the number of bear sightings is beginning to decrease as it gets colder, but this is later in the year than usual.
"It's absolutely the oddest year for bears that we've had," he said.
"There's been very little acorn and prickly pear fruit production in the forest this year and those are the two biggest food sources for the bears during the fall season," he said.
The bears primarily gain their weight mass on plant foods as they get ready for winter hibernation. Bears typically begin their hibernation in higher elevations in late October to early November and at the Payson elevation, in mid-November.
Bear-proofing your home
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 both 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 do not 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.