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Free Lunches Hard To Resist in East Mountains

By Jeff Jones
Journal Staff Writer
    This is another story of a bear that had too many brushes with people.
    And it's another bear story with a sad ending.
    For a while Monday morning, the 150-pound black bear panted softly inside a steel trap outside the state Game and Fish Department office in Albuquerque, sunlight turning the tips of her dark hair silver.
    Over the past month, the young adult sow with the light brown muzzle traveled hundreds of miles in central New Mexico, passed through three mountain ranges, felt the sting of tranquilizer guns three times and once gave game wardens the slip.
    But this was the end of the line.
    Game and Fish officers said she posed too much of a risk to people to be released again. They said they had to kill her later in the afternoon.
    She became an example of what can happen to an otherwise well-behaved bear when it begins to associate people with food.
    She had developed a habit of raiding bird feeders in the East Mountains south of Tijeras. She was captured twice and taken back to the wild— first to Mount Taylor and the second time to the San Pedro Parks Wilderness in the Jemez Mountains.
    She was captured again Monday in Moriarty. It was the third time, and Game and Fish decided she had to be put down.
    "There's just too much of a potential danger to the public," said Game and Fish large-carnivore biologist Rick Winslow. The likelihood was that she would repeat the sequence all over again.
    "She was a traveling bear," Winslow said. "Once they get used to getting food from humans, they just become habituated to it. It's real hard to discourage them."
    Game and Fish advises those who live in bear country to keep pet food inside and bring in birdseed and hummingbird feeders each night.
    Trash should be kept in an indoor area until the day it is to be picked up. And the agency warns that no one should ever intentionally feed a bear: to do so could be signing its death warrant.
    This sow's first run-in with Game and Fish came June 28, after she began pulling down bird feeders in a mountain-home community about 10 miles south of Tijeras, said Game and Fish spokesman Scott Brown. A game officer shot the bear with a drug dart, placed a green tag in one of her ears and hauled her to a wildlife area on Mount Taylor, an estimated 60 to 70 miles to the west.
    But the bear for some reason didn't like the new location.
    On July 2, she was spotted near the Double Eagle II Airport on the west edge of Albuquerque, where she sought refuge up a power-line pole.
    Game officers set up a bear trap at the base of the pole, but she slipped away right after dusk.
    Eight days later, she appeared on the north edge of Moriarty, scampering through yards and spooking horses. A game officer shot her with a dart again and slipped a second green tag in her other ear.
    They hauled her to the northern edge of the San Pedro Parks Wilderness in the mountains above Cuba, an estimated 80 to 90 miles away.
    She was back in Moriarty before dawn Monday morning, where she had breakfast from a trash can in a town park. Another tranquilizer dart, another trap.
    This time, she didn't get another chance.
    "She's obviously not interested in setting up home any place— except Moriarty," Brown said.
    "We've continued to move her farther and farther away. She just returns. ... She's clearly one that has little fear of humans."
    Game and Fish has a general "three strikes" policy concerning bears who come too close to humans for comfort. Bears considered an even higher risk to people don't get three chances.
    Last week, for example, a male bear that wandered through the front doors of a Raton motel was tranquilized and later killed by Game and Fish. His only prior run-in happened earlier in the month when he was trapped by Game and Fish on the edge of the northeastern New Mexico town.