Two black bears were killed in late July, leading wildlife officials to suggest people may be overreacting to attacks that have injured four people since June.
One female yearling bear was found shot to death in the Mount Lemmon village of Summerhaven near Tucson. Another female bear, also a yearling, was killed late at a private campground near Sedona.The bears' deaths followed an attack on a 16-year-old girl on Mount Lemmon. Anna Knochel underwent 18 hours of surgery for her wounds.
The bear that mauled her was tracked and killed by sheriff's deputies and an officer with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Since then, six bears have been relocated from the mountain in the Santa Catalinas, where the total population was estimated at 20 to 25.
Game and Fish workers were called about a bear sleeping beneath a tree in Summerhaven, said Pat O'Brien, an administrative specialist with the department in Tucson.
"When our officers got there, they found it dead. And after skinning it out, we found that a .22 caliber or other small bullet had entered the neck and allowed the bear to bleed to death," he said.
The female bear weighed about 80 pounds.
Drought and forest fires this spring and summer have helped push wildlife toward more populated areas in search of food. The recent attacks by more aggressive bears may have frightened whoever killed the bear in Sum-mer-haven, O'Brien said.
"Logically, that would make sense. But for whatever reason, this bear was obviously illegally taken," he said.
Near Sedona, another black bear was shot and killed at Living Springs Camp, a private campground adjacent to the Rainbow Trout Farm recreational area.
The bear, which weighed about 120 pounds, had come onto the campground every night last week. It had entered at least one cabin and had terrified about 50 children attending camp from Trinity Bible Church in Phoenix, said Pat McKer-nan, campground manager.
Owner Dan Delaney used a high-powered rifle to kill the bear.
"At about 7:30 two gentlemen from the camp came to the office and said the bear was there again and asked me if I could come up and shoot the bear," Delaney said.
He told them he could not shoot the bear unless they felt it was threatening lives.
The men then spotted the bear near trash cans. It left for a brief time when they shined a flashlight on it but soon returned and could not be scared off with loud talk or bright lights, Delaney said.
The men left Delaney to talk to camp counselors, who said they thought the bear posed a threat to the children's lives and again asked Delaney to shoot it.
"I decided since the bear had entered a cabin and it wasn't fearful (of humans), I decided to protect against any possible injury and I reluctantly shot it," he said.
Another factor in Delaney's decision to kill the bear was his liability if the bear injured someone on his campground.
"I'd been asked to do this and if the bear comes back . . . what grounds would that leave me on as far as legally?" he said.
The shooting is under investigation, said Bill Watt of the Game and Fish Department.
"It may be several weeks even before we get an idea if we're going to proceed with any citation," he said.
Overall, however, Watt warned that people cannot just shoot any bear they see.
"They are protected by law and they've had a tough go of it with the drought conditions. And this is not justification for vigilante shooting," he said. "They are really a neat animal, but they must be respected."
O'Brien said black bears are rarely vicious, seldom attacking unless going after food or defending cubs. "The attack Thursday was highly unusual," he said.
However, he added, "when food and water is short, they go for whatever they can get."
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5 incidents reported since June in Arizona
- June 5 - San Carlos Apache Reservation, 30 miles northeast of Globe. Bear enters tent and attacks Gloria Kinney and James Dan. Kinney suffered facial wounds; Dan suffered hand injuries. Bear escapes. - June 19 - Catalina Mountains north of Tucson. Bear walks up to picnic table and eats food from the table. The same day, Arizona Game and Fish Department traps and kills 2-year-old female black bear because of aggressive activities. - July 6 - Mount Lemmon. State wildlife officials move mother bear and two cubs to White Mountains after they develop taste for food found at campsites and damage summer cabins. - July 18 - Whispering Pines Camp on Mount Lemmon. Bear swipes at face of Jennifer Corrales, 8, who is on a Brownie camping trip. Injuries require microsurgery. Bear escapes. - July 25 - Bear mauls teenager at Organization Ridge on Mount Lemmon. Anna Knochel, 16, suffered wounds to shoulder, thigh, legs and feet. Bear was tracked and killed.