Male camper injured this morning; third bear incident in area in past month
PHOENIX — A Tempe man was injured this morning when a bear attacked him in his tent at Ponderosa Campground in the Tonto National Forest, just off Highway 260 about 12 miles northeast of Payson. The attack occurred at approximately 5 a.m.
The victim, 30, suffered lacerations and bites to his head and arm and possibly to his legs. He was helicoptered to the Phoenix area for medical treatment.
The bear had entered the man’s tent and attacked him. His fiance’ and a one-year-old child were also in the tent and were able to escape unharmed and sound the alarm to other campers in the nearby area.
Reports indicate that another camper at a nearby campsite shot at the bear several times with a handgun at close range after the attack. The bear left the area, and it is unknown at this time if or how many times the bear was hit.
U.S. Forest Service personnel evacuated the campground this morning, and wildlife officers from the Arizona Game and Fish Department and personnel from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services are currently searching for the bear.
“Extensive efforts are being made to locate and remove the animal for the public’s safety, which is our top priority,” said Rod Lucas, regional supervisor for Game and Fish.
If the bear is captured, it will be lethally removed because of the aggressive, predatory behavior the bear exhibited and the need for disease testing.
This is the third bear incident in the same general area in the past month, the second at Ponderosa Campground.
On June 21, a bear entered an unfinished cabin in the Thompson Draw II community near Tonto Village, about a mile from Ponderosa Campground, and bit a sleeping man on the leg. His injuries were non-life-threatening. After the incident, wildlife officers set culvert traps and searched for the bear. A yearling male bear was tracked in the area near Tonto Village and dispatched around 9 p.m. on Saturday, June 23. Game and Fish is holding the carcass for DNA and disease testing.
On May 31, a bear entered a tent at Ponderosa Campground and clawed a woman. Her injuries were non-life-threatening. Despite tracking and trapping efforts by Game and Fish and Wildlife Services’ personnel, that bear was never trapped. The U.S. Forest Service temporarily closed Ponderosa Campground after that incident and reopened it June 12.
“At this point there is no way of telling if the bear in this morning’s attack was involved in either of the other two incidents,” said Lucas. “We’ll know more if we’re able to remove the bear and do DNA and other testing.”
The Forest Service has indicated it is temporarily closing Ponderosa Campground along with two other campgrounds several miles away—Christopher Creek and Sharp Creek—as a public safety precaution.
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 areas where humans are because of the often easy access to garbage, food and gardens.
It is important that outdoor recreationists be “bear aware.” 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.
Bear attacks on humans are rare. This is only the 10th documented bear attack in Arizona since 1990, but the third this year.