by Jim Keyworth
roundup staff reporter
A new law that takes effect this week makes it illegal to feed or otherwise attract bears in unincorporated areas of Gila County.
The ordinance, approved July 10 by the Gila County Board of Supervisors, is intended to reduce human/bear conflicts by reducing urban attractants, according to Randy Babb, biologist for the Arizona Department of Game and Fish.
"What it boils down to," he said, "is that more often than not it is people who create these attractive nuisances. You are attracting an animal that has (the) potential to do great bodily harm to you and your neighbors. It's just not the same as attracting a bird."
Under the new ordinance, people who create an attraction for bears through deliberate feeding or inappropriate waste disposal may be cited for their actions. Penalties for violations can range from fines of $500 to $2500, and up to six months in jail.
Gila County Administrator Steve Besich said that the issue surfaced when some people in northern Gila County began feeding bears.
"They started putting food out to watch squirrels, and then it became javelina," he said. "When the drought set in over the years, larger animals started coming in."
But he admitted the law will be tough to enforce.
"We even had a couple of supervisors point out that they leave food out for dogs and birds," Besich said.
Often, it's not the person who attracts the bear who ends up suffering injury or property damage, Babb said.
"They can rip the side off a neighbor's car or break into his house because of what you did," he said.
Another reason for wanting the ordinance passed, Babb said, is that too often a bear ends up having to be destroyed. "The real downside is that people are condemning these animals to death."
Even in the best of years, many rural Arizona residents have problems with nuisance bears, Babb said.
"Last summer these problems reached record levels when drought conditions made yards and homes an attractive substitute to the wild lands usually frequented by bears," he said."
While Gila County is the only other county to enact such a law, Game and Fish is pushing other counties to adopt similar measures. Besich said the Pima County law was passed after an incident on Mount Lemmon. "A bear started frequenting a camp up there, and chewed this girl up pretty bad," he said. "There was all kinds of litigation."
For more information on the new law, problem bears or other wildlife, contact the Arizona Game and Fish Department at (602) 942-3000.