Veterinarian and founder of The Wildlife Center in Espanola Dr. Kathleen Ramsay accepts a proclamation in August 2019 from Los Alamos County Councilor James Robinson proclaiming August ‘Bear Month’ in Los Alamos County. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY LINDA HULL
Rotary Club of Los Alamos
Los Alamos County Councilor James Robinson, co-founder of The Land of Enchantment Wildlife Foundation (LEWF), spoke about bears and bear behavior at the Sept. 1 meeting of the Rotary Club of Los Alamos.
Robinson explained that he became interested in our New Mexico black bears when he and friend Ty Horak, the son of veterinarian Dr. Kathleen Ramsay, were occasionally called upon to assist her with bear rehabilitation. As time passed and needs grew, he worked with Dr. Ramsay to establish LEWF to help other New Mexico wildlife rehabilitators realize their potential.
The American black bear is the New Mexico state mammal. Individuals range in color from cream, light tan, and cinnamon to dark brown and black and can weigh up to 400 lbs. Curious, strong, and smart omnivores, black bears must consume 20,000 calories a day between April and October to prepare for “torpor,” a modified form of hibernation during which they can easily wake up if threatened. During this winter sleep, bears can lose up to 80% of their body weight, accounting for their ravenous springtime appetites.
In addition to a diet of insects, berries, other fruits, meat, fish, roots, and grass, acorns are a favorite food, providing about 2000 calories per pound. By contrast, one resident’s rollcart will provide almost a full day’s caloric intake. With dry weather limiting the food resources available for bears, they increasingly rely on the contents of garbage cans, pet food left outdoors, and bird feeders with seeds and hummingbird nectar.
Robinson emphasized that “fed bears are dead bears” and that relocation is eventually a death sentence. Relocated bears are left in distant areas where food and water resources are unfamiliar, they are endangered by the bears who already live in that territory, and they are often killed crossing highways in their instinctive drive to return home. So far this year the New Mexico Fish and Game department has spent 150 hours in Los Alamos and has relocated seven bears.
Robinson urged residents to accept personal responsibility for reducing bears’ interest in their neighborhoods by not only taking birdfeeders in at night and storing garbage cans until pick-up day, but also by picking up fruit as it falls to the ground.
“Electric fences are very effective,” Robinson noted, as bears have excellent memories. Generally speaking, bears are solitary animals, other than in May and June when family groups form. They have little interest in humans, only their food.
Councilor Robinson is a Los Alamos native and a graduate of the UNM Anderson School of Business. He is also a passionate supporter of wildlife and nature. He has championed mitigation efforts to help make Los Alamos County a bear-friendly community and has arranged collaborations between LEWF and the Pajarito Environmental Education Center to bring the first Bear Festival celebrations to New Mexico.
To learn more about The Land of Enchantment Wildlife Foundation and its mission, goals and grants, visit http://www.lewf.org.