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Bear moved from Oracle as dry start to summer affects wildlife across Southern Az

A black bear was relocated from the town of Oracle on Friday, after the animal had been spotted around the community since late May. Reports of bears and mountain lions have increased due to the dry heat of summer, Arizona Game and Fish Department officials said.

The 2-3-year-old male bear was trapped, tranquilized and moved by Game and Fish staff to “a remote mountain range” after sightings of the animal increased in recent weeks and it damaged property, said Mark Hart, a spokesman for the agency in Tucson. The relocation comes as Game and Fish has received dozens of calls about bears and mountain lions in Southeastern Arizona, and the monsoon rains have mostly left Tucson out so far this summer.

Sightings of bears and mountain lions in more populated areas are “resource-driven,” Hart said. Some of the movement can also be attributed to young bears without established territory.

“We always have a high degree of wildlife populated areas in May and June because that's when it's hottest to driest, that happens every year, but we still haven't gotten any monsoon to speak of,” Hart said.

The Sierra Vista area, specifically the eastern portion of the Huachuca Mountains outside the city, has been “a hot spot for bear activity,” he said. Other bears in Southern Arizona include one that was spotted around Tucson’s Ft. Lowell Park in May, which later returned to the Catalina Mountains, and a bear relocated from the area of Mt. Graham.

Animals have been captured on trail cameras and even on Ring doorbells like that of Gladys Espineira. That surveillance camera captured footage of a bear in Espineira’s front yard on May 26 a little after 5 a.m., sending an alert and still image to her.

“When I opened my phone, you get like a little screenshot, so I was like ‘There’s a giant dog in front of my camera,’” Espineira said. She soon discovered that the animal that briefly visited her home was no dog.

In 18 years in her Oro Valley home she’d never seen a bear prior to May. Mountain lions are seen infrequently, Espineira said.

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Tucson’s Game and Fish office has received approximately 40 calls about bears and mountain lions each since May 1, Hart said. The number of calls is normal for this time of year, however the clustering of them is not.

“What's been unusual about this year is multiple sightings in short periods of time,” he said. “In a matter of days, we'll get three or four reports of a mountain lion or bear in a populated area.”

The reason for the swarm of reports is unclear, Hart said, but it makes managing wildlife that much harder. The department has to check if reported animals are just moving through more populated areas or “menacing someone,” he said. Moving the bears from Oracle and Mt. Graham was “preemptive” and not because the animals were directly threatening anyone.

Reports of mountain lions in the area include one at the doors of Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in April, Hart said, which was scared off by the resort's automatic doors. Another mountain lion was seen in Marana drinking from a swimming pool late last month.

Moving mountain lions is more challenging than bears because the big cats will fight to the death over territory, Hart said.

“It's hard to relocate mountain lions because all the good lion habitat is full,” he said. “It's hard to move a lion from one place to another.”

Disappointing start to monsoon

During dry conditions, Game and Fish provides water to wildlife via watering holes. The department delivers water two or three times a week and helps manage roughly 60 watering holes in Southern Arizona, Hart said.

The year with the most wildlife reports in recent memory was 2020, he said. During that rainy season Tucson only received about 1.6 inches compared to an average of roughly 5.7 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

The reported rainfall for Tucson this season is also below average at about ¼ of an inch through nearly a month of the monsoon, while the average this far into the season is roughly ¾ of an inch. Tucson could still hit or exceed its average rainfall totals for the monsoon, said Aaron Hardin, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.

June did not have the traditional monsoon weather pattern of high pressure over the Four Corners region, he said, but this high pressure phenomena is occurring now.

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“Now that we're in a typical monsoon pattern,” Hardin said. “I think that Tucson will have better chances of getting rainfall.”

While parts of Tucson have missed out on rainfall thus far, the overall region has received average to above average precipitation, he said. If Tucson is still below normal precipitation come mid-August then rainfall for the city may fall short this season, Hardin said.

A good storm can reduce the pressure dry conditions put on animals, Hart said.

“All it takes is a good storm to get some water on the ground and things ease up,” he said.

In the unlikely scenario that someone comes across a mountain lion or bear the person should face the animal and make themself appear larger by raising their arms and using items like a jacket, according to Arizona Game and Fish. If the bear does not move away, keep facing it and back away slowly. Similarly, a person who encounters a mountain lion should maintain eye contact and be loud. Sticks and rocks can help deter the animal, but turning away from them can be dangerous. Instead, slowly back up.

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Arizona Game and Fish Department

A juvenile black bear, photographed last week, was moved from Oracle last Friday after reports of the bear increased in recent weeks. The Arizona Game and Fish office in Tucson has received 40 reports each of bears and mountain lions in southeastern Arizona since May 1.