Bear spotted in Farmington Walmart parking lot. What do you do if you encounter a bear?

Farmington Daily Times

As folks head outdoors to camp, swim and explore, it's time to prep for potential run-ins with our wild neighbors – bears included.

Two bear sightings were reported in Farmington this week - one in the parking lot of a local Walmart and the second a local fire department stations.

While New Mexico's Game and Fish Department were notified, it's not likely to be last bear sighting - or encounter - to happen this year.

The Department warned that with drought conditions persistent, bears may seek food and water in more urban areas, and even in wildland areas frequented by hikers, campers and travelers.

Dr. Jamie Sherman, a wildlife veterinarian at the University of California, Davis, said black bears and grizzly bears are two of the most common in the United States. Most publicized cases of human-bear encounters are going to involve black bears, the smaller of the two, she said. 

"They're startled (or) you catch them off guard, and then they feel threatened," she said. "If they hear you coming from far away, they're more likely to be moving away before you even get to them."

What to do if you see a bear

Branndon Bargo, assistant director of outdoor adventure at Southwestern University in Texas, has had encounters with dozens of bears, especially while exploring wild Alaska.

"I've been in parks like Grand Teton National Park, which is right next to Yellowstone, and just been hiking on a trail and seen a black bear ... maybe two feet from the trail," he told USA TODAY. "Here come these tourists ... they walk up, and they just get right in his face and start taking pictures of it."

Here's a tip: don't do that, Bargo said.

Instead, give bears space, he said. Most of the time, they have no interest in humans anyway, he said. 

But what's also important is how you walk away. 

Two black bear cubs was caught trying to get into a Colorado home.

"You do not want to turn and run," Bargo said. "If you see something that's scary, you're going to want to turn and run. A bear that wouldn't have been aggressive now has this predatory response, and it sees this thing running and it wants to chase it."

If you encounter a bear:

  • 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 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.
  • If the bear has not seen you, stay calm and slowly move away, making noise so the bear knows you are there. Never get between a mother bear and her cubs.

Preventing run-ins with bears: Do you have food? What about bear spray?

Sherman, from UC Davis, offered a few tips to be "bear aware," such as using bear bells to let them know you're near.

It's almost "like a cowbell that you attach to your belt," she said.

She also said those spending time outdoors may not realize everyday items could attract bears, such as dog food, so make sure food containers are secured.

Even scents on lotions and shampoos can attract them.

Also, it's better to keep the spray on a belt versus in a backpack – that way, there's no digging or fumbling around during emergencies, said Sherman.

The N.M. Game and Fish Department offered the following suggestions if you visit, or live in, bear country:

  • Keep trash properly contained until the day of pickup, especially if you reside in, or close to, wooded areas.
  • Never leave fruit from trees and bushes to rot on the ground. It can be a powerful attractant to bears and other wildlife.
  • Remove bird feeders. Bears see them as high calorie treats, and often they will look for additional 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.
  • Keep your camp clean, and store food and garbage properly at all times. Use bear-proof containers when available. If not, suspend food, toiletries, coolers and garbage from a tree at least 10 feet off the ground and 6 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. A distance of at least 100 yards is recommended.Never intentionally feed bears to attract them for viewing.

Other animals to look out for while exploring: Mountain lions, ticks

Other animals that outdoor lovers may want to look out for include mountain lions, according to the National Park Service.

Described as generally "calm, quiet and elusive," mountain lions often live in areas with lots of prey and cover, like Point Reyes National Seashore in California. The National Park Service said that although mountain lion attacks are rare, it's possible.

"Even so, the potential for being killed or injured by a mountain lion is quite low compared to many other natural hazards," the park service said on its website. "There is a far greater risk, for example, of being killed in an automobile accident with a deer than of being attacked by a mountain lion."

But if you should come across one, the organization recommends making eye contact and avoiding crouching down or bending over. 

"A person squatting or bending over looks a lot like a four-legged prey animal," the park service said on its website. If you're in mountain lion habitat, avoid squatting, crouching, or bending over, even when picking up children."

Bargo, from Southwestern University, said other animals humans may encounter include a tiny, often overlooked predator – the tick.

"The problem with ticks is they create long-term issues – Lyme disease and other types of really complicated complex diseases," he said. "It creates all kinds of joint issues and really bad, harmful long-term side effects."

To ward them off, Bargo said to use tick spray or wear long-sleeved shirts and pants. Tucking your pants into your socks to keep them from climbing up your legs is also an option, he said.

Saleen Martin, a reporter on USA TODAY's NOW team, contributed to this reporting.