A small yearling bear roaming subdivisions near Pine Creek Canyon has some residents locking their doors in fright and others snapping photos and marveling at being able to enjoy up close looks at the animal.
A group of girl visitors attending Lo Mia, the LDS Church Camp located in the northern end of the canyon near Pine Creek were among those who decided it was best to avoid the animal by leaving the area.
On the morning of June 1, two busloads of Valley-area campers arrived at Lo Mia, but apparently some of the girls decided to not stay and were bused home when told of the presence of the bear. Other girls remained at the mountain camp.
The first reports of the bear surfaced the morning of May 28 when a homeowner in the Portals III subdivision called the Gila County Sheriff’s Office saying the animal was roaming an area around Pine Cone Trail.
A sheriff’s deputy and Arizona Game and Fish Wildlife Manager Henry Apfel answered the call, but could not locate the animal. Game and Fish officers have set two traps in the area.
“They are culvert-like traps that will catch the bear alive,” said Game and Fish officer David Daniels.
Throughout the past week, several other homeowners in the Portals III subdivision and surrounding areas have reported seeing the bear roaming freely in the early morning and late evening hours. That is not uncommon, bears are most active at dawn and dusk.
While some say the bear does not seem to fear humans, one witness did see the animal break and run when a pet dog barked, then charged.
Daniels hopes that the animal returns to the wilds and doesn’t continue in roam through populated areas and become a nuisance bear, “We want him to go off on his own.”
The bear, since its sighting, has not threatened anyone or pets and has not done any damage.
“All we’ve heard is sightings, nothing much else,” Daniels said.
If the bear is eventually captured alive, Daniels, Apfel and other wildlife officers must consult extensive department protocol to decide what to do with the animal.
The choices can range from setting the bear free in a wilderness area to euthanizing the animal.
Daniels says a lot of factors go into that decision including the sex of the animal, its age and whether or not the animal has lost its fear of humans.
Removal, however, is a last resort because it is traumatic for the animal, Daniels said.
The animal is described as a yearling black bear, or possibly 2 years old, weighing 100-plus pounds and brown-cinnamon in color.
While there are Pine homeowners taken back by the presence of the bear, Daniels said it is not unusual to see bears this time of year, “because things are drying out and they are looking for water and food” which includes nuts, berries, insects and fruits.
One Portals III homeowner reported seeing the bear, which has been nicknamed “Yogi,” standing on his hind legs trying to raid a bird feeder.
Black bears, which are the only type of bears that live in Arizona, usually live in forests, woodland and chaparral habitats, but can roam miles away in times of drought and in search of food.
Young bears, such as the one seen in Pine, also travel long distances in search of an area not already occupied by another bear.
Although black bear attacks on humans are uncommon, they occasionally occur, especially in areas where they come into frequent contact with people and their food, say Arizona Game and Fish Department officials.
The Game and Fish Department has issued a list of 10 “do’s and don’ts” for avoiding conflict with bears, especially when camping in the national forests.
Never intentionally feed wildlife.
Secure all garbage.
Keep a clean camp.
Do not cook in your tent or sleeping area.
Store all food, toiletries and other scented items well away from sleeping areas and unavailable to bears.
Wash up, change clothing, and remove all scented articles before retiring to your sleeping area.
Walk or jog in groups. Pay attention to your surroundings when hiking, jogging or bicycling.
Supervise your children and keep them in sight.
Keep your pets on a leash — don’t allow them to roam free. Or better yet, leave them at home if you can. Pets can easily get into conflicts with a wide range of wildlife.
If you are confronted by a black bear, don’t run. Stay calm, continue facing it, and slowly back away. Try to make yourself look as big and imposing as possible; put young children on your shoulders. Speak or yell and let it know you are human. Make loud noises by clanging pans, using air horns, or whatever is available.