What started off as a typical morning for Fort Huachuca personnel quickly changed when a Civilian employee on his way to work June 6 spotted a mother bear and its two cubs on Old Post just below the Bonnie Blink housing area.
As bystanders called for assistance, the cubs ran up a tree just off Christy Avenue and the mother bear ran up another tree about 100 feet away. When emergency responders and wildlife officials arrived, they blocked off the area and devised a plan to capture the bears.
“We were talking about whether we should go ahead and remove the cubs while [the mother bear] was up in the tree, or give her the chance to come down and go for her cubs,” explained Brad Fulk, a field supervisor with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “We decided to wait and see what would happen with the way it was and she came down and started to go up the canyon [without her cubs]. At that point I said ‘go ahead and get her back up a tree.’ So that’s when we went to Plan B.”
Nine emergency and wildlife officials used a large tarp to catch the 175-pound mother bear as it fell from the tree after being tranquilized with a dart.
Matt Braun, Arizona Game and Fish Department, removed the cubs from the neighboring tree by hand, using a ladder truck provided by the Fort Huachuca Fire Department.
“Given the circumstances of the cubs in a separate tree, we were hoping they would come down and mosey off on their own but that didn’t happen,” Fulk said. “If it had been just the sow, we would have just set up a perimeter and let her come down on her own, remove all the threats and let her drift back up the canyon.”
According to Fulk, the seven-hour rescue event was textbook perfect. After the three bears were removed from the trees, they were taken to the edge of the Galiuro Mountains near Safford, about three hours away, and released.
“It was a cohesive release which means that we didn’t separate them,” Fulk explained. “We let the sow out and put her up a tree. Then we took the cubs out, and placed them up in the tree with her.”
Bear activity has increased on the fort in recent years, with June and July being the months when most bear sightings take place. Since the 2011 Monument Fire in the Huachuca Mountains, bears have been forced to find natural food sources closer to human habitats. But usually, officials can quickly resolve any situation by running them back into the mountains.
Members of the Fort Huachuca community need to understand that this area is considered “bear country,” according to wildlife officials, and should follow certain rules to discourage human and bear encounters.
- Secure all trashcans and do not leave food, including pet food, outside.
- Put trash out the morning of pick-up, not the night before.
- Keep barbecue grills clean.
- Pick vegetation immediately.
- Do not feed wildlife.
“A fed bear is a dead bear,” Fulk said. “When people feed bears intentionally, that bear is now a very, very big threat to anybody else that comes in contact with it because it’s going to be expecting food and that’s what we don’t want.”
If a person comes in close proximity to a bear, they should not approach the animal. Bears may appear to be big and slow but don’t be fooled, officials caution. They are powerful, fast animals with lethal claws. If approached, people should make themselves look as large and imposing as possible by spreading their jacket, if wearing one, and raising it over their heads or using anything being carried. Place personal belongings in front of you and back away slowly. Do not run or make sudden movements.
Those who see bears or potentially dangerous wildlife in the cantonment area should report the sighting to the Military Police Desk at 520.533.3000. Don’t attempt to deal with the situation yourself; let the professionals handle it.