Keep bears in mind, Game and Fish warns

Department expects potential encounters to increase as result of decent rainfall

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Black bears are emerging from hibernation around Northern New Mexico and in the foothills of Santa Fe and Albuquerque, and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is warning that the public is more likely to encounter the animals this spring and should take precautions.

Ratón often fields complaints of bears rummaging through garbage cans and strolling down town streets looking for goodies.

A larger number of bears is expected this spring as a result of several years of good moisture and less drought, according to the state Department of Game and Fish.

"We like to remind the public that spring has sprung," said Karl Moffatt, a department spokesman. "Folks need to be aware, while they are out and about, of potential encounters with wildlife."

He said moisture has resulted in good production of nuts and berries and, "When you have really good years of good food and good condition, reproduction tends to increase."

The department recorded two bear attacks last year, one involving livestock and the other a woman taking part in a marathon at Valles Caldera National Preserve. Fifty bears were killed in 2016 because they were considered to pose a severe nuisance or threat.

Paul Ettestad, a veterinarian with the New Mexico Department of Health, said avoiding bears is the best precaution against an attack.

Bears "want to stay away from you just as much as you want to stay away from them," Ettestad said.

He advised hiking in groups and keeping dogs on leashes in areas with known bear populations because dogs can annoy or startle wildlife.

If you encounter a bear in the wild, make yourself appear large, the Department of Game and Fish advised. If you have a jacket, spread it wide like wings. Pick up children so they don't run. Give the bear room to escape.

Using rocks or even bare hands, fight back if attacked, the department said. Aim for the bear's nose and eyes.

If you aren't sighted by a bear, move away slowly and calmly, making noise.

The Department of Game and Fish also advises people living in mountainous or rural areas prone to bear sightings to remove bird feeders, remove fruit from trees and bushes as they bloom, never leave meat or sweet fruit in compost piles, remove pet dishes from outside and clean outdoor grills.

Campers are warned to keep tents, clothing and sleeping bags free from food smells, to sleep far from a cooking area and to use bear-proof storage containers or hang food, toiletries and garbage at least 10 feet off the ground away from a campsite.

People should never feed bears, according to the Department of Game and Fish.

Black bears, whose fur can take on a cinnamon or blue-gray hue, are the only type of documented bear in the state and can live up to 25 years. The males can weigh more than 400 pounds and females 180. When standing, they are 4 to 7 feet tall.

Last May, a marathon runner in the Valles Caldera, Karen Williams, was attacked by a black bear after she unknowingly ran near the bear's cubs.

The bear that attacked Williams was tracked through a GPS collar and killed and tested for rabies as mandated by state law. Its cubs were taken to a wildlife shelter until they were old enough to be released into the wild.

Williams said the attack didn't warrant the bear's death, but state officials argued changing the mandatory kill law could pose a danger to future bear attack victims if rabies testing didn't take place quickly.

"Our approach is to always protect people," Ettestad said.

This year's marathon in the Valles Caldera is tentatively scheduled for September, according to a Facebook posting.

Kristen Kern, the marathon's organizer, declined to discuss the event until it has been permitted, but she said the course will be the same as in 2016.

"We'll be consulting with wildlife experts for advice and taking additional precautions," she said.

Contact Moss at (505) 986-3011 or rmoss@sfnewmexican.c­om.

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