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Bandelier bear watch continues

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Public safety: Trap set for aggressive bruin

By John Severance

It has been a busy couple days for Bandelier National Monument Superintendent Jason Lott.

On Thursday, the park announced it was entering Stage 2 Fire Restrictions.

But what happened Wednesday morning was what everybody was talking about.
A black bear took a swipe at a tent at Ponderosa Campground, slightly injuring a girl who was camping with her scout troop.

The bear has not been caught as of Friday morning.

Park officials have set a trap and also set up cameras at the campground, which could be closed for up to 10 days if the bear is not captured.Lott said his entire staff has been notified and the trap is checked periodically.

The bear may have made a quick getaway because Lott said it has not been seen since.

All bears in New Mexico are black bears. But black bears also have different colors like cinnamon, brown or even blonde.

“But this was definitely a black black bear,” Lott said.

So how would the park staff know they got the right bear?

“A lot of people saw it early Wednesday morning,” Lott said. “And based on the description, we would know we have the right bear.”

Lott said the bear on Wednesday morning was just the second sighting since the Las Conchas Fire. Before the fire, Lott said he saw bears all the time.

“They are part of the system around here. We had one previous bear sighting in upper Frijoles Canyon this year,” Lott said. “This one might just be passing through and maybe he was just exploring.”

The bear will be better off if he does not return if he knows what is good for him.

If the bear is caught, the park service will hand the bear off to the state. And Dan Williams from New Mexico Fish and Wildlife said the bear would be euthanized because it acted aggressively toward humans.

“We have a strict policy,” Lott said. “If we have to trap a bear, he gets handed off to the state. And it is up to the state what it does with the bear.”

The New Mexico Game & Fish Department, meanwhile, has a policy to relocate bears twice when they’ve been caught foraging in trash cans or near homes. Bears caught a third time, or bears that exhibit aggressive behavior, are euthanized.

“Not only is it illegal to feed a bear, once bears have become accustomed to eating human food or trash they become a nuisance and can become aggressive. By leaving out your garbage and bird feeders, or by baiting bears with food or trash, you are opening the door for that bear to be trapped and killed,” the policy reads.

Lott said the camping group that got the early wakeup call was from Ruidoso.

“We are thinking there was a sudden movement and that startled the bear, which caused him to swipe the tent,” Lott said. “Luckily, the girl was not seriously injured. It was just a scratch.”

Park rangers said the campers admitted to having some toothpaste and lip balm in their tent. Both items have been known to attract hungry bears. The department recommends that campers never keep food or toiletry items in their tent while camping in bear country.

If you see a bear and consider it a safety threat, please contact your local Department of Game and Fish conservation officer, police or sheriff’s office. You also can call the Department office in Santa Fe at 476-8000, or area offices in Albuquerque, Raton, Roswell and Las Cruces, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

If you live or camp in bear country:

• Keep garbage in airtight containers inside your garage or storage area. Place garbage outside in the morning just before pickup, not the night before. Occasionally clean cans with ammonia or bleach.
• Remove bird feeders. Bears see them as sweet treats, and often they will look for other food sources nearby.
• Never put meat or sweet-smelling food scraps such as melon in your compost pile.
• Don’t leave pet food or food dishes outdoors at night.
• Clean and store outdoor grills after use. Bears can smell sweet barbecue sauce and grease for miles.
• Never intentionally feed bears to attract them for viewing. If you intentionally or unintentionally feed a bear and the bear becomes a nuisance, you could be cited and fined up to $500 -- and the bear eventually may have to be killed.
• Keep your camp clean, and store food and garbage properly at all times. Use bear-proof containers when available. If not, suspend food, coolers and garbage from a tree at least 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet out from the tree trunk.
• Keep your tent and sleeping bag free of all food smells. Store the clothes you wore while cooking or eating with your food.
• Sleep a good distance from your cooking area or food storage site.
• Store toiletries with your food.

If you see a bear:

• Stop, and back away slowly while facing the bear. Avoid direct eye contact, as the bear may consider that a threat.
• Never get between a mother bear and her cubs.
• If the bear has not seen you, stay calm and slowly move away, making noise so the bear knows you are there.
• Do not run. Make yourself appear large by holding out your jacket. If you have small children, pick them up so they don’t run.
• Give the bear plenty of room to escape, so it doesn’t feel threatened or trapped. If you are on a trail, step off on the downhill side and slowly move away.
If a black bear attacks you, fight back using anything at your disposal, such as rocks, sticks, binoculars or even your bare hands. Aim for the bear’s nose and eyes.