Seven black-bear incidents within a month in Southern Arizona, including a sighting on Tucson's east side, have prompted wildlife authorities to urge residents to be cautious if they live near where bears have been seen.
Three bears have been euthanized and two bears relocated in Southern Arizona since May 14, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
On Tuesday, Game and Fish officials euthanized an adult male bear that had damaged two vehicles three times over the past weekend at Parker Canyon Lake, near the Mexican border, a department spokesman said.
Another bear was seen twice Tuesday on Tucson's east side. It was reported to have blocked traffic near East 22nd Street and South Houghton Road about 6:30 a.m., then was seen at 8:15 a.m. near East Broadway and Freeman Road.
After a third bear broke glass and screened windows, climbed fences, opened refrigerators and entered screened-in porches in search of food at a University of Arizona research station in the Santa Rita Mountains, Game and Fish officials set a trap for the bear. They plan to euthanize the bear if it is trapped.
"Residents of areas where bears have been seen recently should secure trash cans, indoors if possible, until the morning of pickup. They should also not leave food outside on patios or screened porches, even if it is in refrigerators or freezers," said Arizona Game and Fish regional supervisor Raul Vega. "Bears are normally territorial and solitary, but they are also curious and can become used to human food sources. If so, they will return to that place where they found that food."
While springtime bear sightings are common, it is unusual to have seven problem bears within a month, Vega said. Other factors in the sightings could include higher temperatures, and younger bears trying to establish territories in occupied bear habitat, he said.
The three euthanizations were done in accord with a policy that Game and Fish developed after a serious bear attack in 1996 on a teenage girl on Mount Lemmon, the department said.
All three bears that were euthanized had been deemed immediate public-safety threats under the policy's guidelines, Game and Fish said.
A Tucson legislator, Rep. Daniel Patterson, said he is concerned the department is acting out of fear of liability for damages caused by bears.
"Wildlife should be managed based what is good for wildlife, not lawyers and liability," said Patterson, adding that he may try to get the Legislature try to weaken some of the current law's liability provisions.
The department said liability issues didn't affect its decisions.
The other incidents:
• On May 14, a yearling bear in the town of Picacho, north of Tucson and east of Interstate 10, was captured and relocated to the Santa Rita Mountains.
• On May 15, an adult male that was foraging for food and damaging dwellings at the Ramsey Canyon Trailer Park in Sierra Vista was captured and euthanized.
• On May 19, an adult male bear in Thatcher, in Graham County northeast of Tucson, was euthanized after it was wandering around in backyards. It would not leave a residential area even after responding officers tried to scare it off, Game and Fish spokesman Mark Hart said.
• On June 2, an adult male bear that climbed a backyard tree in Sierra Vista was captured and relocated to the Coronado National Forest near Douglas.
But the Santa Rita bear displayed the most aggressive behavior of the seven, Game and Fish said. It broke into various cabins on four straight nights in search of food.
On Saturday morning, range manager Mark Heitlinger saw that windows and screens had been broken at the home of a caretaker who was on vacation. A freezer was opened from a screened-in porch and food was removed from it, Heitlinger said.
The bear returned to that house and took more food Saturday night, prompting Heitlinger to move all the food into a bunkhouse.
Sunday night, the bear broke into the bunkhouse, broke four windows and took more food.
Both Sunday and Monday night, Heitlinger saw the bear - the first time as it was climbing a tree, the second time as it stood about 50 or 60 feet from his home.
A wildlife biologist living in Patagonia, Debbie Sebesca, questioned the need for Game and Fish to euthanize this animal, since the bear didn't approach Heitlinger's truck when he drove by it in the tree.
"This is not like he's broken into someone's stucco adobe homes. These are flimsy cabins, probably with a lot of air leakage," Sebesca said. "I'm sure the bear can smell food."
But Game and Fish's Hart pointed out that some of the buildings where the bear broke in were vacant, and that the caretaker's home is normally occupied.
"The photos clearly show extensive property damage," Hart said.
Heitlinger said he will feel "very relieved when the bear is caught and the situation is rectified."
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Contact reporter Tony Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 806-7746.