to Go (Bears in New Mexico)
By WES SMALLING/The New
of bears rummaging through residential neighborhoods has the New Mexico
Department of Game and Fish bracing for a busy summer - especially
if drought conditions continue.
The department, which traps and relocates or kills problem bears,
is already receiving about two calls a week at its regional offices,
and The Wildlife Center in Espaņola is caring for seven bears that
were starving to death when captured from the wild.
In the Hyde Park area of Santa Fe, a bear has been rummaging through
garbage cans that residents have been putting out the night before
garbage pickup, an action that could lead to the bear's death, said
The Wildlife Center's head veterinarian, Dr. Kathleen Ramsey.
The department has a three-strikes-and-you're-out policy, meaning
officers will trap and relocate problem bears only twice. The third
time a bear is a problem, it is destroyed. The Hyde Park bear reportedly
has two ear tags, meaning it has already been moved twice by officers,
"If game and fish have to come out to deal with that bear, they're
going to shoot it. People leaving their trash out all night, they
are drawing the bear in," she said. "We were in trouble last year,
and we're still in trouble. We have lots of bears out there, and we
have no food" in the forest.
Failed berry and acorn crops are mostly to blame for last summer's
unprecedented number of bear-human encounters. The first fatal bear
attack recorded in New Mexico occurred last August when a bear killed
an elderly woman in her home in Mora. From July to September, the
department received 324 complaints about bears. In 2001, 181 bears
were killed as a result of complaints - 52 were struck by vehicles,
12 were killed by electric fences or unknown causes and 40 were destroyed
by department officers, 64 by landowners, 13 by officers from other
Bill Dunn, supervising predator biologist for the department, said
the calls are starting to come in. "So far, it hasn't been anything
abnormal. The one thing we have seen that's abnormal is they've been
underweight, severely underweight. In some cases, yearlings that should
be 35 pounds are coming in at 10 pounds, 10 to 15 pounds, a half to
a third of what they should be."
Ramsey believes the region's bears were so undernourished last year
that most sows were too weak to have cubs. If drought conditions continue,
this year could be just as hard on the bears, she said. None of the
seven bears in her care at The Wildlife Center is younger than a year
"I don't think there's a cub in New Mexico," she said. "None of the
females had enough weight to have cubs last year, so I don't think
we're going to see any cubs at all. They're either yearlings or older."
A study released last year by the department estimated New Mexico's
bear population at 5,000 to 6,000. Sandia Mountain Bear Watch, a bear-advocacy
group, plans to ask the state Game Commission to cancel fall bear
hunts in the Sandia and Manzano Mountains because the group believes
bear populations there are under too much pressure from hunting and
from being trapped and relocated. The department's Dunn said there
are no plans to ban fall hunts.
"We'll continue monitoring the situation throughout the summer," he
said. "Carrying capacity (of the habitat) now is less than it was
two years ago, for instance, because of the drought. So reducing the
number of bears is not necessarily the wrong thing. Those that are
left will basically have a better chance for survival based on the
amount of food for bears."
The department asks residents near forested areas - especially those
near the Borrego fire in the Truchas area - to check their properties
for anything that might draw bears and other wildlife into their yards,
such as garbage, bird feeders, barbecue grills, compost piles and
ripening fruit trees. Pets and their food should be kept inside. Small
livestock can be safeguarded with an electric fence.
Bears in residential areas can be reported to the Game and Fish Department
at 476-8000. For advice on how to keep bears away from your home,
call Jan Hayes at Sandia Mountain Bear Watch at (505) 281-9292.
2002 Santa Fe New Mexican
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