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10:25 PM Tue, Feb. 19th

Outdoors: Contact with human beings can be fatal for wildlife

Those who live in habitat areas should be proactive

KINGMAN - Officers with the Arizona Game and Fish Department killed a black bear near Flagstaff on Thursday after it tried to enter a cabin for the second time. The bear, according to Game and Fish, had become used to humans and lost its life due to that familiarity.

Officers were notified late Wednesday night that a bear had broken into a cabin and ate food from a refrigerator, causing damage in the process. Several hours later, the bear again attempted to enter a cabin with people inside and officers were compelled to shoot the animal.

"The bear's actions were that of a bear that had become completely habituated to humans," said Larry Phoenix, a Game and Fish field supervisor.

"We'd been receiving reports about this bear repeatedly visiting and raiding human-occupied areas, and it was becoming an increasingly dangerous situation."

Over the past two months, the bear had tried to get into a Dumpster at Camp Colton that Phoenix said is frequently utilized by children. It also damaged homes and most recently showed up at a Nature Conservancy property at Hart Prairie, where it entered the cabin last week.

While the public is slowly learning that deliberately feeding wildlife does no favors to the animal and could create dangerous conditions for the public, people who live near wildlife habitat should take steps to prevent unintentional feeding, as well.

Phoenix said Game and Fish has provided residents with information on how to bear-proof their property and officers set bear traps in several locations in an effort to capture and safely remove the bear, which Phoenix said was a healthy adult male that weighed about 250 pounds.

"When healthy bears display this type of behavior, they represent a threat to human safety," said Phoenix. "That behavior is also a strong indication that the bear had been feeding on non-wild food sources."

The animal's stomach contents verified that suspicion. Phoenix said there was no wild food in the stomach, but it did contain human food, dog food, trash bag pieces and birdseed.

Residents told Game and Fish officers they didn't necessarily want to see the bear killed, but they were afraid and understood it had to be done, said Phoenix.

Phoenix said Game and Fish takes its management of wildlife very seriously, but tough decisions sometimes have to be made, especially in dealing with large predators such as bears.

"Lethal removal of an animal is the last step in the decision-making process," he said. "We live and recreate in places that are within wildlife habitats, and at times wild animals might find food sources like garbage, dog food and bird feeders in and around homes and properties.

"In this particular situation, most of the homeowners were trying to do the right thing, but the bear still found other food to eat besides its typical wild diet."

When this happens, he said, the outcome could be bad for people and the animal.

There is a small bear population in the Hualapai Mountains. Phoenix said residents living near bears should block crawl spaces under their homes with fencing in order to keep bears from making a den or shelter.

Part-time residents should remove pet food, water bowls and bird feeders, garbage, and anything else that might attract wild animals.

He said wildlife could be kept from getting comfortable in any area if sprayed with a hose, lighting up a property at night, playing loud music or even shaking a can full of pennies or banging pots and pans.