ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Cedar Crest man feels bad, but felt he had no choice
George Scott felt badly about shooting the 250-pound black bear sow in his Cedar Crest driveway Friday morning, but having been warned by deputies that an unusually bold bear had tried to break into a nearby house this month, he said he didn’t have much choice.
About 6 a.m. Friday, Scott’s dog, Loba, began barking in a manner that told Scott something wasn’t right. He stepped outside, walked up the few steps leading to his garage, and saw the bear prowling in his driveway.
Having lived in the area for a decade, this wasn’t Scott’s first bear encounter. In the past, a loud yell would always send the bears scurrying. But not Friday morning.
“I yelled at him, but he just stood up on his hind feet and didn’t budge,” Scott said a few hours after the incident. With the bear about 20 feet away, Scott knew that was a bad sign.
Because of the deputies’ warnings, Scott had grabbed his 12-gauge shotgun on the way out the door.
“I fired a shot into the hillside, and he fled, but he didn’t go very far,” Scott said.
Returning to the house, Scott warned his wife and 12-year-old son to be extra cautious.
Shortly after 7 a.m., Scott’s wife and son walked to the car in their driveway for the trip to school, but Loba was uneasy again. Scott’s son told him the dog might have smelled another bear, then headed off to school with his mom.
When Scott went outside again, the bear was on a hillside about 50 feet from the garage. Hoping it would leave the area, Scott went back inside for about 10 minutes, then went to check on the bear again. It was back in the driveway.
“As I turned to walk back into the house, I looked over my shoulder and he was following me. I yelled at him again and thought, if he takes another step toward me …”
The bear did, and Scott shot him three times with the shotgun.
“I would have felt really bad if she had been pregnant, but she wasn’t,” Scott said. “I wish they had been able to trap it and move it somewhere else.”
One troublesome bear
Ross Morgan, Northwest Region information and education officer for the state Department of Game and Fish, said the agency had been trying to trap the bear since Aug. 6, shortly after it tried to break into a house not far from Scott’s.
Morgan said Scott made the right call Friday morning. A bear that has lost its fear and “stands its ground” when encountering a human, he said, is dangerous and must eventually be killed before it mauls or kills someone.
Scott said game officials told him the sow he shot Friday was the one they had been trying to trap, based on her sex, size and a distinctive white spot on her chest.
After shooting her, Scott notified sheriff’s deputies and Game and Fish officials, who came to the scene, examined the dead sow, weighed her and hauled her off. All bears not killed by licensed hunters become the property of Game and Fish, which sells the carcass to interested buyers. The money goes into the department’s Game Protection Fund.
Because Scott and his neighbors are “bear aware” and careful to keep trash, bird feeders and other bear attractants in check, Scott speculated that an active spring on his 20-acre property might have been irresistible to a thirsty and hungry bear.
Bears and drought
Bear encounters like Friday’s are more common this year than most, Game and Fish officials and bear advocates agree. They also agree that a third straight year of drought in the Sandia Mountains is a key factor in that increase.
They disagree, however, on the long-term impact on the Sandia bear population – which Game and Fish biologists peg at between 46 and 72 , based on a 2000 study and population models – and how to address it.
Bear conservation and advocacy groups like Sandia Mountain BearWatch and the Black Bear Bureau have urged Gov. Susana Martinez to direct the Game and Fish department to provide temporary “supplemental” food for Sandia’s bears in remote areas to draw them away from residential neighborhoods.
Game and Fish officials say supplemental feeding would lead to even more problems for bears and humans, including the danger of bears becoming dependent on the provided food.
The agency says it has no plans to provide supplementary food for the Sandia bears, and that there is sufficient natural food in the mountains to sustain them until they hibernate this winter.
Bear advocates point to depredation killings – those done when a bear comes into contact with humans and presents a danger – as proof that bears are looking for food anywhere they can find it.
According to Game and Fish, there were two depredation kills of Sandia bears in 2012: So far this year, there have been 15 such kills. Six other bears have been killed on roads or by other unknown causes.
The last time depredation kills in the Sandias reached double digits was in 2010, when there were 10.