New Mexico’s Mountains are Mother Nature’s gift to those of us who reside in their wooded serenity or view these beautiful mountains from the windows of our homes. Our state’s mountains support a multitude of wildlife including the black bear. But, lately, Mother Nature has not been kind to these mountains or its resident black bears, giving us the driest winter in 102 years.
We believe this could turn out to be a very stressful summer and fall with dire results for our drought reduced black bear population. Without moisture, the food they forage for will be scarce and in turn, bears will be moving greater distances to find that scant food.
This article is being written to ask all of you to be tolerant, understanding and proactive.
If you care about protecting New Mexico’s black bear’s future, it is simple: keep a clean home-site. A fed bear is a dead bear. Bears are the most intelligent wild animals in North America. If they find easy food, they’ll return. They become habituated very quickly and then become problem bears that in all probability will have to be destroyed, all because of available garbage, birdseed, hummingbird nectar, an un-electrified beehive or chicken coop, a broken branch on an apple tree or dog food left on a back porch.
Some people may not care if a bear eats some of their birdseed, but their neighbor might feel differently and call for the trapping of that same bear.
Some people choose an easy fix for their own problems. “Why store garbage properly or electrify my chicken coop when I can just call the NMG&F and have them trap the bear. After all, they aren’t going to kill it. I just want it off my property”. Well, the story for a trapped bear is not a pretty one. A trapped bear is tagged and a tagged bear is one step closer to being destroyed. Our drought is state-wide, there are no other healthy habitats for these bears to be moved to. If you release a stressed bear in a different mountain range, he or she is unlikely to survive the attack of the resident dominant bear. And in drought years, younger bears will be predated on by larger bears. Some displaced bears will try to return to their home territory and will die crossing an interstate or deplete their remaining fat reserves getting home which will result in them dying of starvation in their winter dens.
Some people may ask “what about safety, can’t a bear attack and kill me?” Extremely unlikely! You have a much greater chance of winning a multi-million lottery than having a bear attack you. Black bear biologists consider these animals shy and rarely aggressive. And these biologists should know. They crawl into winter dens to sedate these animals for their studies. Black bear’s timidity has helped their survival. In contrast, the more aggressive grizzly bear has not fared as well.
If you have an encounter with a bear, apply common sense. If he’s in the bird feeder, eating fruit off of your tree or getting into the garbage, he’s apt to run when he sees or hears you. From the safety of your home, let the bear know he’s in your territory and is unwelcome. Yell, use an air-horn, bang pans, throw balls/stones, etc at him. And more importantly, remove all food attractants that lured him to your home in the first place. If, however, the bear is trying to get into the house or is hanging about during the daytime and seems unafraid, he should be trapped and removed. The responsibility is yours, not the bears.
And be forewarned, New Mexico Game and Fish Officers will be busy giving out tickets this year to people who continue to feed bears either on purpose on inadvertently. It is against the law in New Mexico to feed wildlife.
Sandia Mountain BearWatch asks that you consider your options carefully. First and foremost, please take the responsibility to protect these magnificent animals: do not allow them to become habituated resulting in their destruction. We, along with NMG&F Officers and many of the people who live in bear country, believe that living in New Mexico’s mountains comes with a special responsibility to do everything possible to not negatively impact our wildlife. Only have a bear trapped when it is necessary for your safety. After all, New Mexico’s mountains were the bear’s domain a very long time before we arrived.
Sandia Mountain BearWatch/New Mexico BearWatch
Jan Hayes is a member of APNM and the 2003 Milagro Advocacy Award recipient for Bear Conservation
For more information on co-existing with bears: SandiaMountainBearwatch.org
- DON’T FEED A BEAR – EVER……….A FED BEAR IS A DEAD BEAR!
- Keep trash in a bear-proof garbage container or stored in a sturdy metal shed or closed garage. Put out garbage only on morning of pickup.
- Keep pet dishes and pet food indoors and away from door entrys.
- Stop feeding birds during summer months, there is plentiful food available in the wild. Or hang seed feeders from wires between tree limbs 10ft. up 10ft. apart. Bring in hummingbird feeders at night. Store birdseed in a closed container in a sturdy shed.
- Store barbeque grills inside.
- Keep kitchen windows and doors closed on summer nights.
- For small livestock, chickens, beehives use a sturdy metal shed and/or a 5-strand electric fence using an approved fence charger with alternating current. Be sure to check with the county inspector for guidelines and/limitations.
- Remove fruit before it ripens to stop bears climbing and breaking branches. Or put an electric fence around fruit trees. Don’t add melon rinds or fruit to compost pile except in winter.
- Don’t leave food, groceries, pet food or birdseed in you car overnight
- Don’t feed other wildlife, it will attract bears too. It is against NM law to feed wildlife either on purpose or inadvertently.
- If a bear is drinking from your swimming pool or hot tub in drought years, put water out as far from your house and neighbor’s homes as possible.
- Keep all poisons inside your house; also many bears die from ingesting garbage bags.
- Keep woodpiles and junk away from the house. Bears will hunt for rodents that live there.
- If a bear is trying to force its way into a shed or garage for garbage/birdseed, hang a sock with mothballs on the door of the shed or garage. Please observe all safety instructions on mothball packaging.
See SandiaMountainBearWatch.org or call Jan Hayes for more advice at 281-9282
TIPS for Feeding Birds, not Bears
(pdf download brochure)