A large adult bear has been living the good life in the Pine-Strawberry area for more than a month, frustrating the best efforts of the Arizona Department of Game and Fish to bring an end to his close encounters with people.
"We've been trying to capture him for maybe a month," Craig McMullen, a field supervisor for the department, said. "He's exhibiting behavior that makes us want to capture him."
That behavior includes a loss of its instinctive fear of humans and becoming conditioned to human food.
"With either or both of these scenarios, the risk of somebody getting injured goes way up," McMullen said. "A bear like that starts associating people with food, and that's where the trouble starts."
That's apparently what's happening, according to reports from around the area.
Roundup sports reporter Max Foster, who lives on the north edge of Pine, was visited recently.
"The family was here and we had just finished a cookout," Foster said. "The dog started going crazy so we looked out. There it was on the deck, staring at us."
Standing on its back legs, Foster estimates the bear stood about six feet tall.
While there have been various reports of campers being visited by the bear, the most frequent sightings have been at the Black Bear Restaurant in Strawberry. Bartender Janet Carter reports that the bear "has been seen here all the time" over the last six weeks.
"It's about six feet, and it's been getting into the trash around dusk," Carter said. "If we don't see it, we know it's been there because there are paw prints all over it. If the lid is closed, it will just throw its whole body on it to get in."
But she said plenty of people have seen the bear, including some diners who were able to watch it out the window while they ate. "They were very excited."
Carter also said the bear "got into somebody's cabin about three weekends ago."
McMullen said the weight and size of the bear are difficult to determine just by looking at it, but didn't doubt that it was probably six feet tall.
"We've had people call and say there's a 200-pound bear in their yard, and when we get there it's a 20-pound cub," he said.
Reports of this particular bear have been especially spotty and erratic, making it difficult to capture. If and when it is, it will probably have to be destroyed, McMullen indicated.
"It's just like any other nuisance bear that is able to get at food or water provided by humans," he said. "If you allow them to get at food, the bear will end up being destroyed. The survival or death of a bear lies squarely on whether homeowners provide food. If we can get 100-percent compliance in removing attractants, bears will move on."
Pet food and bird seed are major attractants, McMullen said.
"If your neighbors are leaving this stuff around, tell them to knock it off, and if they don't, call us," he said.
People who see bears in specific situations should call Game and Fish at (602) 789-3202.
"We don't want people to call just because they see a bear run across the road," McMullen said. "We want to hear about bears that are getting into food, or hanging around repeatedly, or are daylight active, or are exhibiting a lack of fear of humans."
Bear country do's and don'ts
Researchers came up with this list of do's and don'ts for people who live in bear country:
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.
Most fences do not stop bears, so do not count on a fence to keep a bear from your garbage. Residents report that barking dogs and motion-sensitive lights do not deter bears either.