SANTA FE, N.M. — It’s bear season in Santa Fe.
Tuesday morning saw police and animal control officers called out to the area behind E.J. Martinez Elementary School at San Mateo Road and Galisteo Street and to the Arroyo de los Chamisos near Santa Fe High School.
The first sighting was suspected to be a male bear around 350 pounds, who may have returned again in the early evening, according to residents who called the Journal about renewed sightings after 5 p.m.
The pair seen along the arroyo Tuesday morning were a mother and cub, according to Johnny Martinez, animal services supervisor for the city of Santa Fe.
In both cases, the officers lost sight of the bears in the morning and suspect they fled back toward the mountains — or at least that’s where the humans hope the ursine visitors were headed.
By late afternoon, though, officers were called back out and captured both a female and a cub — quite likely the same two they were chasing in the morning, according to Rachel Shockley, spokeswoman for the state Game and Fish Department.
The female, estimated to be about 12 years old, was caught around 4:30 p.m. in an arroyo near E.J. Martinez, while the cub, about 8 to 10 months old, was nabbed off St. Michael’s Drive near Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, she said.
“They look really healthy,” Shockley said of the pair. “We will keep them overnight and release them in the morning.”
It’s not unusual to have bears coming into Santa Fe, although these two may have ventured further into town than usual.
“This is usually the busy time of year with bear calls,” Martinez said, adding that things usually slow down after Fiestas, which falls this weekend, a little earlier than usual.
“We believe there are at least 10 different animals around Santa Fe,” he said — and that’s not counting three that were caught in the last four days.
Martinez said state Game and Fish officers recently caught a mother and cub in the 600 block of East Palace and, on Sunday, “a big black bear” on Delgado Street. Those animals were tranquilized, tagged and released in an area away from town. Martinez added that Game and Fish officers don’t tell him where such releases take place.
The female caught on East Palace already had been tagged, so that was at least her second foray into civilization, he said.
The last couple of weeks “have been crazy” with calls of bear sightings, averaging four or five a day, according to Martinez. Not surprisingly, most come from Santa Fe’s north and east sides closest to the mountains, such as around Gonzales Road, Calle del Norte, Cerro Grande and Old Taos Highway, he said.
“Those are the typical areas that usually get bears,” Martinez said. The mama and cub in Arroyo de los Chamisos penetrated more deeply into town than most, he said, adding that a call in the last couple of weeks also came from the Siler Road area.
“I’ve been here like 20 years, and it seems like we get more and more (bear calls) through the years. One officer said he didn’t remember it (ever) being this busy.”
Martinez said one unusual aspect this year seems to be that more pairs of females and their cubs are being spotted. “This year we’ve had maybe as many as five sets,” he said. “We had one report of a mother and two cubs.”
The problem is lack of food for bears because of the ongoing drought, he said. “My neighbor has an apple orchard that usually attracts bears,” but the trees have no apples this year, Martinez said, adding that he’s taken his nephews on trips into the mountains and hasn’t seen much food for bears in their natural habitat.
But in town, they can find wonderful hummingbird nectar feeders and other treats put out for the birds. One officer got a good photo of a mother and cub feasting on a block of suet in the Ridgetop Road area, he added.
So far, no one has been harmed by the bears, although one woman was pretty steamed when a bear scrambling through some garbage pushed the container against her sports car and scratched it, according to Martinez.
He added that the bears coming into Santa Fe generally appear to be quite healthy.
Katherine Eagleson, executive director of The Wildlife Center in Española, said she already is taking care of some bear cubs at the center, and received a call Tuesday morning about three others from the northeastern section of the state that appear to be without their mothers’ care.
She said most cubs stay with their mothers for about 18 months. “When they’re a year, year-and-a-half, we’re going to try to release it,” she said of cubs cared for at The Wildlife Center.