During the summer months many people in the desert areas of Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona head to the higher elevations like Flagstaff or the White Mountains to escape the heat. While camping is a great way to enjoy family time without spending a fortune on your getaway, there are also hazards. One of those is bears.
The black bear (Ursus americanus) is the only bear species still found in Arizona. It is a small bear and lives in forest, woodland and chaparral habitats, as well as in desert riparian areas. Black bears are not always black. Their fur can be light or dark brown. The bears weigh between 125 and 350 pounds with the males being larger than the females. They usually are about 3 to 3.5 feet tall when on all four paws.
Bears are most active at dawn and dusk when they go out to forage berries, bugs, and cactus blossoms. You'll know there is a bear around if you see their large tracks with claw marks. Their droppings usually have remnants of food in them, such as berries. In campsites, you'll know if you have a bear problem if trash cans or dumpsters have been moved or knocked over. Strewn trash is also a sure indicator of bear activity.
In the summer in Arizona, bear activity increases as young bears leave their mothers and begin roaming in search of food sources and to establish their own territories. Bears have a keen sense of smell and can be drawn to food in campgrounds or even in your car.
According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, "most conflicts between bears and people, especially in camping areas, is food-related. Bears can’t change their behavior, but people can. Protect yourself and protect a bear—take a few minutes to secure your food items.”
Ten Ways To Minimize the Risk of Conflict With a Bear
Black bears are capable of killing or seriously injuring humans. These tips for Arizona campers are offered by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
- Never intentionally feed wildlife.
- Secure all garbage.
- Keep a clean camp.
- Do not cook in your tent or sleeping area.
- Store all food, toiletries, and other scented items well away from sleeping areas and unavailable to bears.
- Wash up, change clothing, and remove all scented articles before retiring to your sleeping area.
- Walk or jog in groups. Pay attention to your surroundings when hiking, jogging or bicycling.
- Supervise your children and keep them in sight.
- Keep your pets on a leash; don’t allow them to roam free. Or better yet, leave them at home if you can. Pets can easily get into conflicts with a wide range of wildlife.
- If you are confronted by a black bear, don’t run. Stay calm, continue facing it, and slowly back away. Try to make yourself look as big and imposing as possible; put young children on your shoulders. Speak or yell and let it know you are human. Make loud noises by clanging pans, using air horns, or use whatever is available.
If you encounter a bear in a developed campground, notify the campground host. If you have a problem with a scavenging bear in the forest, notify the Arizona Game and Fish Department.