PEEC hosts grrreat Bear Festival

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By Sarah von Sternberg

On Saturday morning, the Nature Center was packed with booths, families and bear paraphernalia.

The Pajarito Environmental and Education Center (PEEC) teamed up with the Land of Enchantment Wildlife Foundation (LEWF) to host New Mexico’s first Bear Festival.

This festival brought national, state, local and independent organizations together with the sole mission of bear education and appreciation.

PEEC Director of Interpretation Jonathan Creel explained that their hope is to be “raising awareness of how to coexist with bears,” like the steps to take in bear proofing your home and life.

Creel gave credit to their partnership with LEWF and said, “The Land of Enchantment was huge in this whole thing. They put in a lot of time and effort, especially with the bear dinner the night before.”

Dr. Kathleen Ramsay launched LEWF in order to assist bear rehabilitation efforts across New Mexico. Similar to PEEC, their mission is to make Los Alamos bear friendly and bear aware. Because bears are such intelligent, habitual creatures,

Ramsay commented, “We have to quit feeding them in order to break the habit.” In Los Alamos, nine bear resistant trash receptacles are being utilized, but their ultimate goal is to see all trashcans replaced in the next two to three years. Ramsay insisted, “If we’re really active, we will see a change.”

Josh Levings ran the booth for Los Alamos County Environmental Services Division, whose mission in the community is to “provide exceptional solid waste and sustainability services to create a better community for current and future generations,” according to the county’s website. Next to their tent, they displayed an example of a bear resistant trashcan that is meant to keep bears from opening the trash lid. Levings mentioned that, upon request, the ECO station would provide residents with hardware to secure their roll cart lids.

According to Creel, the environmental services group had a few people sign up to have the bear resistant latches put on their trashcans. “I think that’s one of the biggest things for people to know, is that that is available for free at the moment.” This device will hopefully keep bears out of garbage, away from people, and in turn, not put down.

“Essentially, just this little contraption could save bears’ lives,” remarked Creel. Call 662-8163 for more information or to request this service.

Members from Bandelier, Janice Stroud and Chris Judson, manned a booth with lots of fun activities for the younger crowd. They had animal print stamps and a game called “are you smarter than the average bear?” For this game, Stroud held up typical camping items and asked the kids if it should be sealed away in a bear box or not. Interestingly enough, even items like soap and canned goods need to be put away. With this game, kids learned that bears have a superb sense of smell and how to plan accordingly on a camping trip.  

Other booths at the festival represented organizations like Open Space and Trails, New Mexico Game & Fish and Sandia Mountain Bearwatch.

The Bear Festival rallied a sizable crowd of around 400 people, which Creel said was a pretty good number for a first-time event. Although future plans to make Bear Festival an annual event are still being discussed, this year’s seemed to hit its goal.