Rim Country campers sleep easy: The bears have vanished back into the deep woods, says the local Arizona Game and Fish office.
That’s good since in June of 2012 bears attacked three people east of Payson, including one bear that dragged a sleeping Valley man from his tent.
While Game and Fish trapped and killed several bears, it could never find the bear responsible.
This summer, things remain much calmer — although a rash of sightings put rangers on edge during the hot, dry months when the bears can grow desperate for food.
But after several bear spottings in June, the bears ducked back into the folds of the forest once the rains started in late July. The summer moisture provide a flush of new food for the omnivorous bears, said David Daniels, local wildlife manager with Game and Fish.
But even though the forest now abounds with acorns, berries, grubs and other sources of food and water for the bears, that doesn’t mean campers are out of the woods.
With an influx of outdoor enthusiasts expected this holiday weekend, Game and Fish encourages everyone to remain “bear aware,” storing foods and trash properly.
The Flagstaff Game and Fish Office records several bear sightings in communities there, many trying to make a meal out of household garbage.
“The greatest attractant to bears is food, and most issues between people and bears are associated with its availability,” according to a press release.
While a bear’s diet is primarily a healthy smorgasbord of berries, nuts, grasses and insects, they also like junk food — primarily garbage, birdseed, hummingbird feeder nectar, pet food, livestock feed, fruit trees and vegetable gardens.
“Once a bear becomes used to feeding on garbage and other human food, it’s a matter of time before it loses its fear of people and actively seeks out garbage or the scent of human food sources, even if those smells come from the kitchen of an occupied home or cabin.”
Last year, the Forest Service installed more bear-proof trash containers and shifted to emptying trash containers more regularly in campgrounds around Rim Country. Before the first attack last year, overflowing trash containers had repeatedly drawn bears, campers said.
The string of attacks last year started on May 31 when a bear ripped open a tent in the Ponderosa Campground and clawed a woman on the head. On June 21, a bear entered an unfinished house in Thompson Draw about a mile from the campground and nipped a sleeping construction worker on the leg. Then on June 24, a bear tore open a tent and started to drag a Tempe man off into the woods.
Officials said a bone-dry fall that year dramatically reduced the food available to bears as they emerged from hibernation, forcing them off the Rim and into the more populated areas.
This year, Game and Fish investigated several bear sightings in June, but none resulting in attacks, Daniels said.
One bear hung out by the Christopher Creek Campground a few times, but didn’t act aggressive or enter sites, he said.
“He was just getting water from the creek.”
Then on Forest Road 171, which is on top of the Rim in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, Daniels helped set up a bear trap after a bear got into an ice chest.
A woman was reportedly sitting in a campsite when a bear approached, opened her cooler and rummaged through it for a meal.
The woman, who was armed with a gun and bear spray, told officials she didn’t use them because she didn’t feel threatened.
Still, officials set up bear traps. They never caught anything.
They also didn’t catch anything with a trap set up by a home in Colcord Estates. A bear was spotted there climbing a tree to reach a bird feeder.
Arizona is home to 2,500 black bears. Game and Fish manages that population with limited hunting.