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Be a Friend to Bears

Find information about living with black bears.

The Species: Black Bears Need our Help to Survive and Thrive!

Albuquerque’s foothill neighborhoods are in bear country, but the number of bears in the mountain ranges surrounding our city is dwindling. As residential development expands into black bear habitat, many bears get relocated or killed. If we want bears to survive and thrive in our mountains, they need our help.

The black bear is New Mexico’s state animal, yet bears don’t enjoy special protections. Black bears are a hunted species, and the state issues hundreds of kill permits each year. Several thousand black bears remain in wooded areas across New Mexico. That’s not a large number, given that bears reproduce slowly. Due to our drier climate, bears tend to start reproducing later than bears in northern states. Female bears often don’t have their first cub until they are almost 6 years old, and then only have one to three cubs every few years.

All bears in our state are black bears (ursus americanus); New Mexico no longer has grizzly bears. Despite their name, black bears come in several colors: cinnamon, reddish, blonde, and brown, as well as black. All are naturally shy and docile animals. They feed mostly on plants, and sometimes small rodents and carrion. Black bears can climb trees, swim well, and run up to 35 miles per hour.

See the Bears Fact Sheet!

Fun Fact:

New Mexican Black Bear became Smokey Bear

The living symbol of Smokey the Bear, the American icon of wildfire prevention, was a three-month old black bear cub found in 1950 after a large forest fire in New Mexico’s Lincoln National Forest near Capitan. The cub had climbed a tree to escape the blaze, but his paws and hind legs had been burned. A New Mexico ranger cared for the little bear until he was flown to the National Zoo in Washington D.C. He then became the living face of Smokey Bear, the cartoon character invented by the U.S. Forest Service at the end of World War II. Over the years, Smokey Bear received millions of visitors and letters from across the country. After his death in 1976, his adopted son, another orphaned bear cub from the Lincoln Forest, took over the role of Smokey Bear. The original Smokey Bear is buried in Smokey Bear State Park in Capitan.

Did You Know?

Bears are the largest animals to hibernate, and they do it differently than other species. They stop all activity and drastically slow their metabolism, but they largely maintain their body temperature. This is unusual: other mammals that shut down also cool down. When humans are inactive for a prolonged time, such as in a hospital bed or suspended in a space station, we can be kept artificially warm, but our muscles wither and our bones get thinner. Bears have no such problems: they can shut down the genes involved in bone breakdown. Similarly, when humans suffer a stroke, our brain may be damaged by insufficient supply of oxygen and nutrients. Bears, on the other hand, can slow their breathing and heart rate by 75%, yet emerge from their winter dens healthy (and hungry).

What if doctors could put humans in a similar state of hibernation?

The Challenges: Keeping Bears Alive and People Safe

Close encounters with bears are rare. Black bears are wary of people, and will usually try to avoid us if they can. Their normal response to any perceived danger is to run away.

Black bears are active from mid-April through mid-November. During that time, you can do your part to prevent problems with bears.

Bear safety tips: See a bear, back away!

  • Never approach a bear (and don’t let your dog approach).
  • If you see a bear when hiking, maintain a safe distance and alter your route to avoid the bear. Never block a bear’s travel route.
  • Make noise; don’t surprise a bear.
  • If a bear is close, face the bear (without making eye contact) and back away slowly. Talk calmly to identify yourself as a human. Group together and pick up small children and pets.
  • Do not run.
  • If a bear approaches you, scare them away by making yourself as large and imposing as possible by stretching your arms overhead and making loud noises.
  • Look for cubs and stay away from them. Do not come between a mother and her cubs.
  • If attacked, fight back aggressively.
  • Carry and know how to use bear spray when hiking in bear country.
  • Don’t attract a bear by leaving food or trash on the trail.

We live in bear country. It is normal to see signs of bear activity, especially if you reside in the foothills, including Sandia Heights, or in the East Mountain communities of Tijeras, Cedar Crest, and surrounding towns. Black bears are at home in the Sandia and Manzano mountain ranges.

In the spring, as temperatures rise, bears emerge from hibernation and leave their winter dens in search for food. This takes them to lower elevations, where plants start growing earlier. At that time, bears may come closer to your home.

You Can Prevent Bear Conflicts: A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear!

While black bears naturally avoid people, this changes if they grow accustomed to eating human food or garbage. If we make it easy for bears to access our garbage, they may choose this easy meal instead of foraging for food in the wild. Bears are very intelligent and opportunistic animals so a mother bear will teach her cubs to feed on garbage and they in turn will teach their future cubs. This is how most human conflicts with bears arise, resulting in the bears being labeled a “nuisance” even though the underlying issue is often within human control.

⇒ Remember: If there’s nothing for bears to eat around your home, you won’t see any bears.

What Happens to Bears Accustomed to Human Garbage?

Once a bear is perceived as a nuisance, that bear often ends up dead. Homeowners can ask the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to trap the bear. Many trapped bears then get euthanized. Some are relocated, but bears don’t survive relocation well and often die in their new environment. For both bear and human safety, see the following tips for pro-active steps to prevent and deter bears from becoming attracted to your property.

Action Tips: Be a Friend to Bears! ❤ What You can Do

You can help keep bears alive by preventing their access to human food. It’s against New Mexico law to feed bears on purpose. But even if you don’t intend to feed a bear, be mindful that it may be easy for bears to get to the food you leave behind.

Bears can smell food from over a mile away. As scavengers, bears are attracted to kitchen scraps, pet food, empty food containers, birdseed, and trash cans. If bears learn that people are a source of food, they lose their natural fear and can become aggressive in their search for food.

The words Tip #1

Prevent Bears From Feeding on Your Garbage

Signs of bear activity in your neighborhood include overturned trash cans. You can prevent further bear visits by bear-proofing your garbage.

  • Keep your garbage stored in a sturdy shed or closed garage. 
    • The best enclosure is one that hides the trash cans, because bears are less likely to be attracted to what they can't see.
    • If you build a garbage enclosure, use strong materials that can't be pried apart or tipped over.
    • Use a tight-fitting latch, ideally two, to keep the shed door firmly closed.
  • Use a wildlife-proof trash can that includes protection against bears.
    • Wildlife-proof trash cans are great for keeping out racoons, rodents, and other critters. Bear-proofing requires additional protection.
    • Bear-proof trash cans have locked and reinforced lids. They are available at hardware and home improvement stores.
    • Make your conventional trash can bear-resistant by locking the lid. Bolt hasp and eyebolts to the container and reinforce them with mending plates to prevent the plastic from ripping.
  • Contain your garbage until the morning of pickup. Don’t put trash cans out the night before.

The words Tip #2

Remove Food Sources From Your Yard

Make your yard uninteresting to bears, especially if you live close to the mountains and have seen signs of bear activity.

  • Keep barbecue grills clean or stored inside.
  • Don’t feed pets outside.
  • Hang birdseed feeders and hummingbird feeders from wires 10’ off the ground and 10’
    away from anything a bear can climb (or bring feeders inside at night). Feed suet only in the winter when bears are in hibernation.
  • Plant fruit trees away from your house, pick fruit as it ripens, and remove fallen fruit.
  • Keep compost away from the house and avoid adding melon rinds or other fragrant fruit, except in winter.
  • Protect beehives and chicken coops with electric fencing and place them at a distance from your house.
  • Don’t leave anything edible in your car overnight if it is parked outside.

Just Ask: Need Help?

What to do if You See a Bear:

  • You don’t have to report bear sightings; bears are at home here too.
  • If you see a bear nearby, or if a bear is in a nearby tree, walk away or go inside your house, and take your pets with you. Give the bear time to leave. 
  • If a bear comes close to your home, yell at them and make noise from the safety of your doorway. Teach bears that they are not welcome around your home.
  • Report a bear only if the bear appears aggressive or tries to enter a house. Call the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish at 505-222-4700.

Be a Friend To Wildlife ❤ ABQ Wildlife Coexistence

Albuquerque is home to over 850 animal species, many of whom roamed these lands long before our city's founding. They are important city residents who help maintain healthy local ecosystems. Always Enjoy Wildlife from a distance.

Be a Friend to Wildlife: Dos & Dont's

Don't feed wildlife (except songbirds)
Don't feed pets outside
Don't leave pet waste
Don't use chemicals or poisons

Do keep your distance
Do seal garbage &compost
Do plant native flowers
Do supervise your pets
Do stay on trails