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May 2, 2013 9:18 PM by Erika Flores

Bears looking for food near Cochise County homes

TUCSON - Bears are out of hibernation and Cochise County residents are already reporting sightings.

Sunday, Arizona Game and Fish responded to their first bear this year.

Ever since the Monument Fire burned much of the bears' food supply two years ago, there've been plenty of sightings near homes.

Last fall a bear climbed over a fence at Ash Canyon Bed and Breakfast to get to bird feeders.

You can still see a tooth mark from the bear, and another birdfeeder was almost shattered.

"The bears were hungry and they were foraging residential neighborhoods for food, getting into garbage," said Mark Hart with Arizona Game and Fish.

Last year, Arizona Game and Fish said they averaged one bear call every day between July and October.

"Last year I had three different bears come into the yard at three different times in the summer and fall," said Mary Jo Ballator, who runs the bed and breakfast.

The 2011 Monument Fire destroyed a lot of the vegetation in the Huachuca Mountains.

"It'll be years before that habitat is what it was before the fire," said Hart.

And now bears are looking for food anywhere they can.

Ballator has lived in Hereford for nearly 20 years.

"It's very sad that the bears are resorting to this because they would normally stay high up in the mountains," said Ballator.

Ballator also opens her property to bird watchers.

She said she's learned from past experiences with bears to keep an eye on her birdfeeders.

"If I saw evidence that there was a bear in the neighborhood, what I would need to do is take down every feeder every night," said Ballator.

Arizona Game and Fish said they estimate there are about 65 bears in the Huachuca Mountains, and any one of them could be tempted by human food.

They advise viewers to secure their garbage and never feed bears.

If you do, you could get hit with a $300 fine.

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