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My phone rings daily with a myriad of questions concerning the many bears being killed in the East Mountains this summer. This leads naturally to discussing why a 1% minority of East Mountain residents is unwilling to co-exist with our black bears. Why does the NMG&F continue to service this 1% by trapping and killing the very bears that these people created by their bad habits? And why does NMG&F believe they can solve this perceived ‘bear problem’ by upping the bear hunt, killing more Sandia and Manzano bears next year?
Government agencies like the NMG&F often seek an easy solution. Over the years, the principal solution that NMG&F has used to solve their perceived bear problem is to increase the hunt. In fact, the NMG&F increased the statewide hunt 21% just last year. Hunters killed 409 bears statewide in 2009.
But, an increased East Mountain bear hunt won’t work to solve our people/bear interaction problems here. That is, unless the NMG&F intends for hunters to kill out the entire small population of East Mountain bears.
After an older Mora woman was killed by a yearling bear many years ago, the NMG&F enlarged the hunt to encourage hunters to kill many more bears statewide. And they did, to the tune of over 700 bears killed in just that year. The incident of the young woman being mauled while camping in a Sandia picnic ground earlier this summer has once again helped bring on increased trapping and killing along with a proposed increased hunt.
An increased East Mountain bear hunt won’t solve the human/bear interaction problem. Hound hunters will not hunt in the Sandias where only bow hunting is allowed. They will, instead hunt out the Manzano bear population. Sandia bow hunters are not allowed to hunt around the ‘problem’ homes and food businesses that provide available garbage, hummingbird feeders and seed feeders. The bow-hunters, hound hunters and outfitter’s customers who pay big money to hunt bear, all want to hunt in the high country. And in the end, innocent, non-habituated bears will die in larger numbers by hunters because of careless EM homeowners, food-related businesses and the campers that created this problem in the first place…while the ‘problem’ will not change with NMG&F continuing to trap, relocate or kill habituated bears.
And this destructive cycle never ends. Wherever there is easy food available, a mother bear will teach her cubs to forage for caloric-high human garbage and birdfeeders.
The real solutions are not easy. And it will come down to Commissioner Brasher and the other Bernalillo County Commissioners as well as the New Mexico Game and Fish to institute the remedy.
The first step should be a Garbage Ordinance that would require every mountain resident purchase a bear-proof garbage can and to make sure that garbage companies comply by supplying food related businesses with bear-proof garbage dumpsters and services. This solution works; over a dozen communities in Colorado alone (as well as in many other states) have ordinances that require bear-proof garbage cans and dumpsters. It would be a one-time expense that comes with moving into the mountains and bear country.
Another solution would be for NMG&F officers to start issuing tickets to the small number of irresponsible residents that habituate bears with their available garbage, birdseed, hummingbird feeders, etc. and for judges to follow through on the resulting fines.
The NMG&F are now saying we have too many bears for the habitat, when in reality we we’ve had a freak food shortage due to late harsh frosts and no spring rains that produce forage that these bears usually rely on at this time of year. Living in the southwest means that we will always live with cyclical weather, which is exactly what our bears are facing today.
The East Mountain toll is mounting. NMG&F has killed five bears and a sixth large 300-pound male died, most likely from heat prostration while being transported to the Zuni Mountains. Homeowners have killed four bears and two bears have died on highways, which bring the total to 12 dead East Mountain bears so far this summer with 4-6 more bears being trapped and relocated to other mountain ranges. One study found that 90% of relocated bear died in a short time span.
The real solutions are not easy or perhaps even popular, but if we are to continue to have a viable population of bears in the Sandia and Manzano Mountains, we have no alternative.
Jan Hayes is the founder of Sandia Mountain BearWatch and New Mexico BearWatch