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"Be Bear Aware" officials warn

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"Be Bear Aware" officials warn

CREATED Mar 20, 2012

Reporter:  Jessica Chapin

TUCSON (KGUN9- TV) - Arizona Fish and Game officials are warning residents to "be bear aware," after Sierra Vista had its first bear sighting of the Spring.  Officials expect there will be more because last year's wildfires changed the terrain of their habitat and food source.

"Today's the first day of Spring and bears are coming out their winter dens and they come out of those dens hungry," said Fish and Game spokesperson Mark Hart, "our concern this year is that because their habitat may have changed fundamentally because of areas impacted by the wildfires, they may be seeking forage elsewhere."

Hart says bears don't usually eat anything other than berries or other plants, nuts and seeds, but if they get a taste for left-overs, it can be trouble.

"Once they acquire that taste they can be quite aggressive in the pursuit of food," he said.

Just last year, a Pine Top resident was killed after she was mauled by a bear she encountered near a dumpster.  Hart says securing garbage and taking special precautions while camping can save lives.

In the event of a close bear encounter, experts say not to run away or play dead.  Instead, act big, make noise, and try to scare it away.

"You're far better off trying to scare a bear off and if you find yourself in a bear encounter, fight back," said Hart, "You may be fighting for your life."

Anyone with persistent bear problems in their neighborhood can report it to Fish and Game at 1-800-352-0700.