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Let’s make sure bears survive

Game warden John Martsh of New Mexico Game and Fish attempts to dislodge a tranquilized black bear earlier this month from a tree in Albuquerque's Northeast Heights.
(Dean Hanson/Journal)
Game warden John Martsh of New Mexico Game and Fish attempts to dislodge a tranquilized black bear earlier this month from a tree in Albuquerque's Northeast Heights. (Dean Hanson/Journal)
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The Sunday Journal article “Bear Dilemma” told some, but not the entire story about what is happening to Sandia’s bears.

The Sandias are unique. It is the smallest mountain range surrounded by the largest human population in New Mexico that still has bears. But, not for long.

New Mexico Game and Fish statistics portend that soon there will be no bears in the Sandias. For years Game and Fish estimated this range held about 50 bears. In just the last three and a half summers, 85 bears have been trapped and relocated or killed by Game and Fish, including bears killed on I-40. We also expect a 100 percent mortality of all cubs this year with no cub reproduction next year.

By any measure there are precious few bears remaining in the Sandias.

Sandia bears have had a multitude of hurdles to survive.

First, the drought. But even worse, three sunny, warm weeks in April forced blooms on all fruiting trees and bushes only to be killed by a hard May freeze.

People who live in the Sandias are finding zero food sources for these animals. The recent rains may help but not enough since most if not all of the oak blossoms that produce acorns were destroyed.

Second, we have some people who have moved into bear country who remain uneducated about how to coexist with bears.

And third, Game and Fish has refused to proactively educate residents; they only react when calls flood into their office.

For 18 years BearWatch has begged Game and Fish to ticket people for habituating bears with their garbage. But the agency has yet to issue a single ticket for this misdemeanor or push for legislation for statewide bear-proofing.

As usual, Game and Fish is more than happy to trap bears for the irresponsible. I find it ironic that the residents who don’t care about what happens to these animals may be the very ones who are carelessly feeding and saving our few remaining bears.

Recently Game and Fish sent out a news release threatening people with a $5,000 fine if they feed starving bears. This level of hypocrisy is stunning.

Game and Fish continues to refuse to diversionary feeding. Their subliminal message is to let the bears starve.

Their stats show that out of the 22 bears they’ve trapped so far this summer, they’ve killed 11. Would residents have called Game and Fish if they had known it was a death sentence and the bear’s carcasses would later be sold for the price of a $46 bear license? I doubt it.

If we are to have bears in the Sandia Mountain, they must be carefully and humanely managed. They are a trapped population.

During droughts in past centuries, Sandia’s bears would leave the mountain to find water and forage along the Rio Grande. Now these bears have a half million people, roads, cars, dogs, Game and Fish and police officers chasing them in their desperate bid to survive.

Based on data, many of us believe that top management in Game and Fish plan to eliminate what they consider to be this problem species in the Sandias. Game and Fish doesn’t do a very good job at most things, but with the help of Mother Nature and some residents, they are succeeding in this goal.

New Mexico’s bear hunt starts on Aug. 15. All of Sandia’s relocated bears will be going to heavily hunted areas. I doubt these relocated bears will survive a week.

Game and Fish is throwing away a win-win-win situation by not doing diversionary feeding. If they did, the few remaining Sandia bears would survive and continue to procreate, residents would not have hungry bears down around their homes day and night and the agency would win because they would be viewed by the public as concerned stewards of Sandia’s starving bears.

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