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Sep 25, 2012 9:53 PM by Nathan O'Neal

Surge in bear sightings prompts population control hunt

SIERRA VISTA, Ariz. - Bear sightings and encounters have increased recently in the Sierra Vista area, prompting Arizona Game and Fish to issue permits to kill five bears as part of a population management effort.

Game and Fish has permitted archery hunters to kill a total of five bears because they say the environment can't support them, which is one reason the animals come down the mountain and into the town.

A lack of food in the mountain pushes the bears closer to town. In one 72-hour period this month, Game and Fish say there were 12 different bear sightings involving 10 different bears.

Sightings are especially frequent in Hereford and Sierra Vista, with some sightings even at the Fort Huachuca Army Base. Game and Fish spokeseman Mark Hart says any encounter with a bear is too close for comfort and that these population control measures must be taken.

"We think this will pull down nuisance calls cause by bears getting into residential areas foraging for food," Hart told News 4 Tucson.

Patty Johnson has lived at the base of the Huachuca mountains for nearly 25 years. She says the bear sightings in her neighborhood aren't anything new.

"I don't think many of us are afraid of them, we just use wisdom," Johnson said. "You don't leave too much out."

One evening Johnson was alerted by her dog who was barking at the door.

"So I looked at the side window and there was a bear that was leaning against my front door," Johnson said, adding: "One of the biggest bears i've ever seen...it was beautiful."

While Patty says the mere thought of killing bears is sad, she understands why Game and Fish is making this effort.

"I mean we're living amongst them and it's sad to know that some have to die but I kNow that game and fish have our best interest at heart," Johnson said.

These hunts do have rules in place, including that you can not take down a female bear who is traveling with her cubs. The five permits issued only allow one bear kill per person and is valid through the end of December.

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