Young bears are likely looking for new territory

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FARMINGTON — The bears are coming out of the woods and have been seen in and around cities.

Young bears have been seen trotting up a neighborhood street near Aztec and wandering through Farmington near McCormick Elementary School.

Animal control monitored the Farmington bear’s movements from the school westward. It was last seen near the La Plata River.

Young bears searching for territory

While these bears have been seen wandering near houses, New Mexico Game and Fish has not received any complaints about bears in San Juan County this year, according to spokeswoman Tristianna Bickford.

This means the bears are likely not causing too many problems as they wander through local neighborhoods.

Bickford said bears tend to come out of their dens in April or May and young bears are currently searching for new territory. 

The wet weather has meant fewer encounters with bears statewide, but Bickford still recommends taking actions to discourage bears from staying in cities and neighborhoods. She said keep yards clean and remove bird feeders — including hummingbird feeders — at night to encourage bears to keep walking.

"They don't want to be in town," she said. "They want to be out of town."

Trash cans should be secured in locked buildings and pet food should not be left outside in areas where bears have been seen. New Mexico Department of Game and Fish also recommends cleaning barbecue grills and storing them in secure locations.

Game and Fish video discusses bear necessities

New Mexico Department of Game and Fish did a Facebook live video this year about bears. 

During the video, bear biologist Rick Winslow said there are about 8,000 bears in New Mexico. He said during wet years, female bears — or sows — tend to have more cubs so the population increases. Sows tend to have two to three cubs and breed every other year.

Winslow said bears look for habitats with food, water and cover. He said the bears tend not to live in the piñon and juniper woodlands, but they will visit the piñon and juniper areas when there are berries and nuts on the trees.

"Juniper berries are a very important food resource for bears throughout New Mexico," he said. 

For the most part, Winslow said bears prefer mountainous, forested areas.

Throughout the year, the bears' diets change. Winslow explained in the spring bears will eat anything that is available including green grass, forbs like plantain and dandelion, insects and carrion.

When summer comes, the diet changes and bears begin eating more fruits and nuts such as acorns, piñon nuts and juniper berries.

What to know about black bears

The only bears found in New Mexico are black bears, so there’s no need to worry about running into an angry grizzly. However, residents should take precautions around the black bears, especially mothers with cubs.

Bear cubs tend to be born during the winter in the den and spend more than a year with their mother, Winslow said during the video.

Black bears come in many colors including black, cinnamon and brown. The adult bears weigh between 125 and 600 pounds.

According to New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, black bears tend to avoid people unless they become accustomed to eating out of trash cans.

"Bears that become habituated to human food will continue to look for human food when things get rough," Winslow said in the video.

He said those bears are almost always ultimately euthanized.

MORE: Cory Styron spearheaded opening The Beach at Lake Farmington. Now he is leaving the city.

What to do if a black bear attacks

If you do see a bear, the department of game and fish recommends staying calm and not running. Stand upright, wave your arms and slowly back away from the bear, the department states.

People should never go between a mother bear and her cubs.

If the bear does attack, the department of game and fish says people should fight back aggressively.

Bear repellant, a can usually containing a strong pepper spray, is available in many sporting goods stores. Its holster can usually be attached to a belt or backpack for quick deployment in case of a hostile bear encounter.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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