People and wildlife are getting outdoors more now that spring has arrived, and the N.M. Department of Game and Fish is reminding everyone to be aware of the greater chance of encountering bears and other native wildlife.
Males and young, independent bears are emerging from hibernation this time of year and they will be out foraging and seeking territory of their own, said Rick Winslow, the department’s bear and cougar biologist. Sows with cubs will follow in May, while cubs born last winter that spent this winter with their mother soon will be setting out on their own as their mothers seek to breed again.
After three years of good precipitation following a long-running drought, bears will be very busy breeding and producing offspring, Winslow said.
Residents of wildland-urban interface areas such as the East Mountains or other rural portions of the state may have a greater chance of encountering bears.
Bears that appear to be moving through the country should be left alone and there is no need to report them. Last year, several individuals were injured during encounters with bears.
The department offers the following suggestions if you visit or live in bear country:
Never leave fruit from trees and bushes to rot on the ground as it is a powerful attractant to bears and other wildlife.
Remove bird feeders. Bears see them as high calorie treats, and often they will look for other 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.
When camping, 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; 100 yards is recommended.
Never intentionally feed bears to attract them for viewing.
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.
For more information about living with bears in New Mexico visit wildlife.state.nm.us and consult the publication “Living with Large Predators.”