NM Game & Fish: Bears search for food in urban areas

Two bears have been sighted in Farmington and Aztec this year

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
  • Dan Wiliams of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish says there has not been a large increase in reports of urban bears this year.
  • If a bear is considered a threat to public safety, Game and Fish officials euthanize the animal.
  • Bears try to consume 10,000 calories a day in the fall to prepare for winter.

FARMINGTON — In early August, a mother black bear and her two cubs surprised some Aztec residents as they wandered along the Animas River corridor and explored areas around Aztec Ruins National Monument.

On Labor Day, a young bear visited the Bonnie Dallas Senior Center in Farmington, as well as a nearby business, before being apprehended by New Mexico Department of Game and Fish officials and escorted out of the city. 

While visits by bears to local urban areas are not unheard of, several factors could have contributed to this year's visits, according to the Game and Fish personnel.

New Mexico Game and Fish Department officers removed a tranquilized black bear near the Bonnie Dallas Senior Center in Farmington on Sept. 4. The sleeping bear was placed in a cage in the bed of the white truck.

Dan Williams, a spokesman for the department, said there has not been a large increase in reports of urban bears this year. Three years of good precipitation after a prolonged drought has led to a boom in the bear population, and that prompted the department to issue a reminder earlier this year for people to be aware of bears.

"They had a lot of cubs, and those cubs are now being kicked out by their mothers," Williams said.

Read:Bear's visit to Farmington cut short by tranquilizer dart

Williams said the department does not keep track of the number of bear calls it receives each year. When bears are reported, the department tries to educate people about ways to deter bears. If the bear is trying to break into houses or killing livestock, Game and Fish traps the bear and relocates it. Williams said the department tries to find an area without a lot of bears so the relocated bear can establish a territory.

New Mexico Department of Game and Fish officials and Farmington police officers secure an area where a bear was tranquilized on Sept. 4 near the Bonnie Dallas Senior Center in Farmington.

However, if the bear is considered a threat to public safety, the department euthanizes the animal. According to handouts from the department, the majority of human-bear conflicts occur when a bear associates trash with food. Nuisance bears being euthanized is one of the leading causes of bear deaths in New Mexico, along with hunting and predation by other bears.

The recent population boom, as well as a shortage of food in the mountains, such as acorns, may have driven bears into more urban environments this year, Williams said.

He said the food in the mountains is becoming more plentiful now, so the bears may retreat back to higher elevations.

But bears also tend to be more active in the autumn, Williams said. He said the bears are trying to eat 10,000 calories each day to prepare for winter.

Trash, pet food and bird seed could attract hungry bears to neighborhoods. Williams said if a bear has learned to associate humans with food, it is harder to get the bear to leave an area.

He said people should bring bird feeders in at night and feed pets inside houses.

"If there's no food sources, the bears will just sniff around and be on their way," Williams said.

For more information about bears, go to wildlife.state.nm.us.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.