Lyle Lovett sings, “If you see a bear take him out to lunch with you. Even though your friends may stop and stare.”
Game and Fish officers and city police disagree.
Española residents from Valley Drive south to Las Lomas Apartments had an opportunity the night of Sept. 2 to see up close a black bear that had come to town for the evening.
Sgt. Benjamin Otero, of New Mexico Game and Fish and Officer Kayla Brauer responded to a call from Española City Police after residents saw a bear near Community Bank on North Riverside Drive.
“Let them deal with it,” an officer states in an E-911 entry. “They’re trained for that.”
Española City Police Chief Roger Jimenez said Monday the Department doesn’t have a policy for officers dealing with bears. It’s customary to contact New Mexico Game and Fish and keep the area clear until they can arrive.
“We provide a perimeter and keep citizens safe from contacting the animal or vice versa,” Jimenez said.
By the time Otero and Brauer got to the original call, the bear had disappeared.
Another call came in two hours later for a sighting across from Santa Claran Casino.
“He’d come to town for the evening,” Otero said Sept. 11. “They smell the goodies and come to town and then get turned around and can’t get back to their territory.”
He said the bear had been in town a few hours and that both sightings were the same bear.
“He ended up in a tree near the Casino,” Otero said. “Another officer (Brauer) darted him and we used a bear bag to catch him.”
He said the bear was about 15 to 20 feet up the tree.
“Unfortunately, this bear died,” he said. “We don’t know if he had a previous injury or was hurt while being chased, or a bad reaction to the drug but he went in the trap alive and didn’t make it.”
Dr. Kathleen Ramsey has decades of experience dealing with bears and other wild animals that wander into populated areas.
“Right now bears are doing everything they can to get calories,” she said Tuesday. “At the end of July they enter a period where they must eat 12,000 calories a day (to prepare to hybernate). Trash is the easiest way of getting there.”
Ramsey has seven bears in her care right now. They were orphaned or gun shot somewhere in Northern New Mexico.
“Bears are apex predators and people are afraid of them,” she said. “The few encounters we’ve had have not been good.”
Otero said they’ve trapped or darted bears near Santa Clara and Alcalde and Velarde and successfully relocated them. A small minority of the bears are “problem bears.”
“We would have released it in the Jemez on the Cuba side,” he said. “We move them out of populated areas and get them close to a good food source water source."
Drought and lack of food sources available earlier in the season brought the bears to populated areas. The sporadic rain over the past month has helped a lot.
“We did get an acorn crop so they’re feeding now and we’ve seen a decrease in bear activity,” Otero said.
Ramsey said she hiked an area between El Rito and La Madera two weeks ago and found, at the higher elevations, acorns were about fingernail sized.
“As I came down acorns were no bigger than half a lima bean,” she said. “Piñon is way behind, rose hips are coming in now but trash is a nightmare.”
Calories thrown in the trash by humans can feed bears for days. Additionally trash is put outside to avoid the smell. Bears love that, she said.
“Bears know what trash day is in Los Alamos,” Ramsey said. “Almost all dumpsters in Los Alamos are bear resistant. They have really good bear resistant trash cans. We’re slowly getting people educated in Los Alamos.”
Ramsey cited some common calorie counts. One pound of sunflowers seeds, which are dropping now, has 1,740 calories. Seven pounds of bird seed has 12,000 calories and a 25-pound bag of dog food has 45,000 calories.
Another issue is fruit on the ground. While the Valley’s fruit crop mostly froze, there are pockets of orchards with down fruit. Bears smell that from far away.
Otero had safety tips for anyone meeting a black bear.
“Back away slowly and try to make yourself look big,” he said. “Back away, don’t turn and run, then you trigger their natural chase and attack instinct.”
He also suggested put their trash out the morning of pick up, remove bird feeders and any other food that would attract a wild animal.
“Of course you guys are right there along the Rio Grande bosque,” Otero said, implying it’s full of wildlife.