Genetic testing has indicated the bear that severely injured a man last month remains on the loose, clearing all three bears killed by state hunters after a string of three attacks near campgrounds south of Highway 260 near Christopher Creek.
Officials said they would re-evaluate the order that closed Ponderosa, Sharp Creek and Christopher Creek campgrounds on July 15.
Arizona Game and Fish Department officials say they have yet to make contact with a black bear that pulled a 30-year-old Tempe man from his tent by the scalp June 24 at Ponderosa Campground.
Officials didn’t have enough DNA samples from the bears that attacked two other campers earlier to tie any of the attacks to the three bears killed after hounds picked up their scents in Tonto Village or near the Ponderosa Campground shortly after the attack.
Meanwhile, Game and Fish officials and sheriff’s deputies have fielded a number of reports of bear sightings in Christopher Creek, East Valley Estates and elsewhere — but have reported no fresh attacks or conflicts.
Jim Paxon, chief of information with Game and Fish, said two game officers are still patrolling the areas around Ponderosa Campground and Thompson Draw, but have not sighted any bears. The officers have set out baited traps near the campgrounds, but so far haven’t caught any any bears.
“The Forest Service is going to have to decide if it is going to reopen the campgrounds if we don’t have a bear in hand by the 15th,” he said. “I don’t know what they will do.”
The Forest Service briefly closed Ponderosa after a bear clawed its way through a couple’s tent May 31. A woman sleeping inside was clawed on the head.
On June 21, a bear bit a man sleeping in a garage in the Thompson Draw II subdivision a mile from the campground. The bear’s teeth barely penetrated the man’s leg.
Then on June 24, a bear pulled Peter Baca from his tent, barely missing a 1-year-old child also sleeping in the tent. Baca underwent surgeries but should recover.
Game officers tracked and killed three bears, two young males and an adult female. However, the DNA sample cleared all three in the Baca attack. Officials have no way to determine whether any of the bears had any role in the other two attacks because they didn’t leave behind useable traces of DNA.
Paxton said the bear in the Baca attack displayed such aggressive behavior that Game and Fish must find a way to kill it.
“We have a real need to collect this bear because the attack on Mr. Baca was severe and we need to get this bear in hand.”
Game and Fish set up traps, snares and a baiting station near Ponderosa Campground.
A sharp rise in the number of bear sighting calls has demonstrated a lot of bears remain in the area, but Game and Fish says it is having trouble finding them.
A good dose of rain could solve most of the problems, said Paxton. “The big problem is until we get the monsoons and grow some foliage, there isn’t anything for the bears to eat,” he said.
“We are really asking the public to their keep guard up.”
If a bear crosses your path, get big and make lots of noise. Move away slowly and refrain from running. Officials estimate there is a bear in every 1.5 to 2 square miles in Rim Country.
“We have a very vigorous bear population in Arizona,” he said. “They are important to the ecology, but they need to be acting like bears are supposed to.”
To report a bear call (800) 352-0700.