Barely Any Clues

Frustrating search for rogue bear turns up only fading footprint

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A bear that clawed a camper through her tent last week remains on the loose.

Arizona Game and Fish officials say an exhaustive search of the area around Ponderosa Campground this weekend yielded no new clues to the bear’s whereabouts.

The large black bear ripped a hole in a tent early Thursday morning in the campground where a 74-year-old woman, her husband and their dog were sleeping. The bear took a swipe at the woman, leaving her with bruises and a laceration on the scalp.

A host of employees with various government agencies have been looking for the bear since the attack.

David Daniels, wildlife manager with Game and Fish, said the bear has effectively vanished from the area.

Daniels and two other Game and Fish employees spent two nights in the campground, off Highway 260 about 10 miles east of Payson, waiting for the bear. During the day, they hiked miles around the campground, but found no new tracks beyond the ones the bear initially left when it fled.

Daniels suspects the bear left after the Forest Service contractor emptied several overflowing trash dumpsters in the campground. The Forest Service closed the campground and surrounding forest roads until further notice after the attack.

With no campers, trash or food around, Daniels said the bear might have moved on.

During the summer months, food is in shorter supply causing some bears to get more creative in their quest for dinner.

“The bear was probably looking for food, which is scarce this summer because of drought,” said Jim Paxon, information chief with Arizona Game and Fish Department.

The couple had reportedly done everything right to keep a bear away. They locked their food in the cab of their truck and brought none of it into their tent.

The bear’s behavior after the attack suggests it was looking for a meal in the tent.

“While the campers were with the campground host and medical personnel, the bear came back to the tent a second time, ripped another hole in it and then went after a pillow that had blood on it from the woman’s wounds,” Paxon said.

Most bears are fearful of humans and stay away. There have only been seven documented cases of bear attacks in Arizona since 1990, including this one. Unusual behavior like this is troublesome, officials say.

“Public safety is our first priority,” Paxon said. “This bear poses a threat to public safety and therefore needs to be lethally removed.”

The woman was treated for her injuries and released from Payson Regional Medical Center. The woman’s husband and dog were not hurt.

Daniels said the search for the bear has been frustrating.

“We have spent two nights out there looking, set traps, we have done everything we could,” he said.

Personnel from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services are working with Game and Fish officers, using dogs to track the bear from the scene of the attack.

Daniels said they will continue looking for the bear.

“It is such a big piece of country right there around the campground that if it wanders off in the woods, we are not going to find it,” he said.

Someone reported spotting a black bear in the area around the R Bar C Ranch Sunday morning. By the time Daniels arrived, however, the bear had gone.

“We don’t know if it was the same bear,” he said. “Quite a few bears live in the area.”

The Ponderosa Campground host had reportedly seen the bear hanging out in the area before the attack and reported it with the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

A wildlife manager visited Ponderosa Campground on Wednesday looking for the bear and set a culvert-style trap.

The wildlife manager talked to the campground host about precautions, and all campers were informed of the bear threat.

The bear returned to the campground sometime during the night. The campground host chased the bear, which retreated. It returned a short time later and attacked the campers in their tent, Paxon said.

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