Some Arizona campgrounds open after bear attacks

PHOENIX - Officials announced on Wednesday a modification of campground closures after three bear attacks near Payson in May and June.

Ponderosa, Upper Tonto Creek, Lower Tonto Walk-In, Christopher Creek and Sharp Creek campgrounds in the Payson Ranger District were closed in response to the attacks.

The modified closure goes into effect immediately.

"Extensive ‘Bear Aware' educational efforts and warnings to the public to take extra precautions while camping this year will continue," said Rachel Hohl, district recreation specialist. "More bear-proof trashcans have been ordered and will be installed when the district receives them," she added.

Hohl also said that "with the increased live fuel moistures, we should have improved vegetation production for the bears."

Requirements for all open campgrounds on the Payson Ranger District:

  • All open campgrounds will have bear-proof dumpsters. 
  • The campground concessionaire will continue regularly-scheduled bear talks and offer them Fridays and Saturdays at all campgrounds.
  • All campers entering campgrounds will receive verbal and written bear communication information.
  • Campground message boards will continue to have signage about heightened bear awareness.
  • All campground hosts have bear air horns and are forbidden from leaving bear attractants outside their trailers.
  • Visitors are prohibited from leaving bear attractants in their camping areas (such as in their tents).
  • Routine patrols by Forest Service personnel will continue, and citations will be issued for camps with uncontained garbage.

The following are the campground requirements addressed by the current order:

Sharp Creek will re-open.

Christopher Creek will re-open:  onlyhard-sided campers are authorized.  The Christopher Creek day-use area will have garbage removed every evening by the host and will receive a bear-proof trash can.

Upper Tonto will re-open:  only hard-sided campers are authorized.  Note: sites are small in this campground so trailers have to be short or only over camper type mounts.

Tonto Walk-In (Lower Tonto):  Remains closed to overnight usage (a tent camping campground only).    Open 6 am – 6 pm.

HoustonMesa/Horse Camp:  Currently open

Dispersed camping areas:

405/405A Dispersed Loop (including Bear Flats and Lower Tonto Creek):  Open for day-use only (no camping):  6 am – 6 pm.

Upper Tonto Creek Dispersed Area and Horton Trail Area (Hwy 260 to Hatchery):  Open for day-use only (no camping):  6 am – 6 pm.

Ponderosa Campground remains closed for the season.

See next page for 'Bear Aware' tips for campers and others

Be Bear Aware tips for campers and others

What Should I Do If I See a Bear?

Black bears should always be considered unpredictable and potentially dangerous – at all times.

A black bear will usually detect you and leave the area before you notice, unless the bear has been conditioned to people and their food. If you live in black bear country, take responsibility for not attracting them.

It is essential to keep a clean camp. Store all food items away from your sleeping area. Wash up before going to bed to remove food odors. Do not keep toiletries in your sleeping area, they might also attract bears. Avoid sleeping in the same area where you prepare or eat food. Never intentionally feed wildlife.

If you prepare desserts, such as S'mores, be sure those eating this delicious concoction wash up afterwards because marshmallows and chocolate are superb bear attractants.

To discourage a black bear, immediately:

  • Alter your route to avoid a bear in the distance.
  • Make yourself as large and imposing as possible, such as spreading out your jacket like a set of wings.
  • If the bear continues to approach, stand upright and wave your arms, jacket or other items.
  • Make loud noises, such as yelling, whistles, and banging pots and pans.Do not run, that could prompt the bear to chase and catch you.
  • Never play dead.
  • Give the bear a chance to leave the area.
  • If the bear does not leave, stay calm, continue facing it, and slowly back away.
  • If a black bear attacks, fight back with everything in your power – fists, sticks, rocks and E.P.A. registered bear pepper spray. While household black and cayenne pepper is not as potent as bear pepper spray, they can still provide a slight deterrent factor.

Remember, removal is usually a last resort: Bears can be common at high elevations where food is plentiful. Different bears will visit the same area if attractants are not removed. Bears that must be removed are relocated or may have to be destroyed if they are considered too dangerous, have lost their fear of humans, or continue to get into conflicts with people.

So be bear aware while visiting the state's diverse outdoor habitats.

For more information, visit the Arizona Game and Fish website.

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