Originally Published: June 28, 2012 9:45 p.m.
Government officials have killed three black bears in the Payson area following three bear attacks on humans in May and June.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department has not yet reported whether any of the three lethally removed bears were involved in the attacks. Officials gathered DNA and other evidence at the scene of the attacks to help figure out whether the bears were involved in the attacks.
Game and Fish announced Wednesday that all three bears tested negative for rabies.
Bear attacks on humans are rare despite Arizona's population of 2,500 to 3,000 bears. Only 10 attacks have been documented since 1990, but three of those 10 have taken place within the past month.
The first attack took place on May 31 when a bear entered a tent in the Ponderosa Campground and clawed a woman. The campground is located on the Tonto National Forest just off Highway 260, about 12 miles north of Payson.
The second attack took place June 21 when a bear bit a man's lower leg while he was sleeping in a cabin under construction in the Thompson Draw II community near Tonto Village, about a mile from the Ponderosa Campground. When the man moved and yelled, the bear ran off but lingered in a nearby area for about 45 minutes, Game and Fish reported. One other man was present at the cabin during the attack.
The third attack occurred at about 5 a.m. on June 24 when a bear attacked a 30-year-old Tempe man in his tent at Ponderosa Campground. The victim suffered lacerations and bites to his head and arm. The man's fiancé and a 1-year-old child were also in the tent. Another camper shot at the bear with a handgun several times at close range, but it's unknown whether it was hit.
The Forest Service has temporarily closed Ponderosa Campground along with two other campgrounds several miles away, Christopher Creek and Sharp Creek, as a safety precaution.
Game and Fish officials tracked one bear from an area near the site of the cabin attack to the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery and killed it around 9 p.m. on June 23.
Then Game and Fish officials alongside The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services killed two more bears on June 24.
The first bear was a young adult male weighing around 160 pounds. The other bear was a very large female that weighed approximately 300 pounds and was dry, meaning that she did not appear to have produced any cubs this year.
Dogs tracked the two bears from a scent trail near the Ponderosa Campground.
Game and Fish has conducted forensic investigations on all three victims' personal belongings and camping equipment to recover DNA samples. Those samples, as well as some tissue from the bears that were removed, were flown to the Wyoming Game and Fish Forensic and Fish Health Laboratory on June 26 for analysis.
"Until we receive the results of the DNA analysis, we will not know whether these three recent attacks can be attributed to one bear or three different bears. DNA examination is critical in this case for helping prove or disprove a link between the attacks," said Rod Lucas, regional supervisor for Game and Fish.
"Our wildlife officers chose their profession because of their love for wildlife and the outdoors," Lucas said. "They do not enjoy destroying animals, but the burden of public safety and active management of wildlife dictates an aggressive approach, and efforts will continue until the offending animal(s) is found or it is no longer feasible to continue operations."
With the state's drought and scarce wildlife food resources, more and more wildlife are moving into areas that are on the fringe of wildlands, looking for food. Bears are particularly attracted to campground areas where they often find easy access to garbage and food sources.
It is important for outdoor recreationists to be "bear aware," officials added. Secure all food sources, cooking gear and trash well away from camps and tents when recreating in bear areas. Bears are attracted to areas with dumpsters, trash bins and campsites with food.