An uninvited guest has been visiting John Vigil and his family almost nightly for nearly a month. Vigil said a black bear has been coming to his neighborhood near the Plaza in search of food.
Ty Jackson of the New Mexico Game and Fish department said sightings of black bears in Las Vegas are far too common lately. Jackson said the department has responded to 30 incidents from Las Vegas to Pecos regarding black bears since Aug. 20.
Vigil’s nightly visitor has him concerned about the safety of people using the Gallinas Riverwalk, which runs through the middle of Las Vegas.
“We even heard it on the porch one night,” he said. “It is scary that the bear is roaming right next to our house and in the Riverwalk area. Many people walk at night and the bear is in that area.”
He said the large bear walks up from the Riverwalk, just east of his house, and makes its way toward large trash bins located behind some eateries in the Plaza Park area. The bear scavenges through the trash bins and takes what it finds near a ditch just west of Vigil’s home.
“It concerns me because people are constantly walking the Riverwalk area and the bear goes down there regularly,” Vigil said. “We get nervous once the sun goes down. Even my dog wants to come in at night because of the bear.”
Jackson said he is aware of the bear that roams near Vigil’s home although there have been numerous other sightings of bears around town. He said the best way to keep bears away is to make your house as uninviting as possible.
Vigil said he has taken the necessary steps to protect his home, including thoroughly cleaning the trash bin with bleach, but the bear still comes because of trash and grease bins just west of his home.
Jackson said the Riverwalk area and the area near Vigil’s home has brush that allows bears to hide while devouring their meal for the night. He said bears are coming into town in search of food to build up weight to last them through the winter hibernation season.
In past years the Las Vegas Police Department has temporarily closed off parts of the Riverwalk area due to bears.
Police Chief Christian Montaño said he, too, has received reports of bears in the Riverwalk area and other parts of the city.
“We are contemplating closing the Riverwalk area at this time,” Montaño said. “When it comes to a point that we need to protect the public from bears we will temporarily close the area.”
Although the main corridor for bear sightings has been along the Gallinas River, several bears have been seen in other parts of town, including a bear that was hiding in a tree near Sears on Seventh Street recently.
Another bear was seen Saturday evening in a tree near Old National Road and Highland Drive.
Montaño said his department responds to bear sighting calls and informs the Game and Fish department.
“We respond to the degree that we can, and we have to take into account the safety of the citizens,” he said.
While bears have been a nuisance inside the city in recent weeks, they are also killing livestock, causing serious problems for some area ranchers.
Jackson advised people to make their surroundings as uninviting as possible to bears.
Jackson and Dan Williams of the Game and Fish department said there are several steps homeowners can take to reduce the chances that a bear will show up outside your house.
Among the recommendations:
• Lock garbage containers or take them out only the morning of trash pickup. This prevents bears from being able to scavenge through the trash bins.
• Remove bird feeders for the year since many plants are in bloom, providing hummingbirds and other birds enough food. He said bears associate bird feeders with sweet treats.
• Take pet food and food dishes inside at night.
• Clean and store outdoor barbecue grills after use, as bears can smell the grease for miles.
Jackson said he and another officer based out of the Pecos area are the only two handling bear calls within the area in addition to handling their other duties, which include such things as poaching investigations. He said the majority of time, the department relocates the bear to another area after it is captured.
The Game and Fish Department says anyone who encounters a bear should back away slowly and avoid eye contact, because bears see eye contact as a threat. The department also advises people not to run. Additionally, make yourself appear large by holding out a jacket and pick up small children if they are with you to prevent them from running. Allow a bear room to escape to prevent it from feeling trapped or threatened. If a bear attacks you, fight back using anything that is available including rocks, sticks and your bare hands. Aim for the bear’s nose and eyes. And never come between a mother bear and her cubs.
Jackson said anyone seeing a bear that appears to be posing a safety threat, may call either the local police department or the Game and Fish Department office in Santa Fe at 505-476-8000.