LAPD Cpl. Amos Smith/Courtesy photo
Editor’s note: Los Alamos Police Department has responded to 14 “bear calls” in 20 days. The Los Alamos Reporter reached out to Cpl. Amos Smith for his advice for the community. Cpl. Smith graduated from Eastern NM University with a BS in Wildlife and Fisheries sciences. He worked on the Rio Grande cutthroat restoration project with the US Forest Service on the Carson National Forest around Taos. He served with the NM Department of Game and Fish as a wildlife officer for eight years and was assigned in Taos, the Quemado District of the Gila, and finally the Los Alamos/Jemez district. Cpl. Smith joined Los Alamos Police Department in 2019..
“I have a bear visiting my property and getting into my trash and birdfeeders”. This is how most phone calls regarding bear activity start. I originally wrote this article in the summer of 2017, during a very bear intensive summer, and things have not changed significantly. Los Alamos is situated in such a way that bears will always be present in town and finding ways to safely co-exist is a continuing goal. In addition to Los Alamos being right in the middle of prime bear habitat, bears have the unique ability to delay a pregnancy for up to three years, until conditions are right, at which time most able females have cubs. These cubs will stay with the mother for about two years. After fires and droughts, or even “good years” when there are many bears fighting over the best territories, bears get displaced and end up in town. Some bears have even spent their entire lives here in Los Alamos. Regardless of how they got here, they have all found that trash and birdfeeders are easy pickings. Bears are trying to ingest 10,000 calories per day to put on enough fat and weight for winter. A handful of bird seed is approximately 1,200 calories and liquid hummingbird food is about 900–1,000 calories. It is no surprise that bears seek out these “vending machines” wherever and whenever they can.
So the big question is always “what can I do to keep the bears away from my property?” The two quick fixes are to bring birdfeeders in at night (and during the day for about a week if a bear has visited during daylight hours) and to secure trashcans in a garage/shed if at all possible. Not everyone has a garage or shed to secure their trashcan in, so it is recommended that residents get the lid latches that the County has been providing to residents. The next option for deterrence is to use an ammonia water spray. Mix water and ammonia 50/50 in a spray bottle and apply it anywhere that bears are not wanted: trashcans, porches, doors, windows, pet enclosures, chicken coops, and fences around the yard. Because a bear’s nose is so strong, the ammonia stings their nose and helps to keep bears from coming around the area where it has been sprayed. This can be applied once a week, unless it rains and then it will need to be reapplied.
Looking forward to next year, what can be done to help residents live peacefully with the bears that will inevitably be in town? Removing any attractants is always the first step. But, what if a person wants to have birds, specifically humming birds, come to their property? Well, there is a way to bring in hummingbirds without attracting bears; planting flowers specifically for hummingbirds. At the end of this article, I have added a list of flowers known to draw in hummingbirds while not attracting bears.
Two other items that will make your backyard more attractive to hummingbirds are bubbler/misting water sources and the color red. Hummingbirds prefer misters and bubblers for water sources over standing water, which can also be attractive to a bear. Hummingbirds are also attracted to the color red, which is why most feeders are red in color. Red gazing balls or other decorations can be used to draw in hummingbirds to your new flower garden.
We will have bears in Los Alamos County this year and next. While harmful interactions have not been common, Los Alamos County has not been without at least one serious attack this year. Citizens are requested to leave bears alone, especially when cubs are present, a bear is eating, or if a bear has gone into a tree. Running from a bear is not recommended, and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish recommends making yourself appear larger by waving your hands in the air and making loud noises in an attempt to scare the bear. Bear spray (concentrated pepper spray with a spray pattern of ~40 Ft) is available at local retailers within the county.
Please contact the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, (505) 222-4700 (Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) or (505)-841-9256 (NM State Police Dispatch, 24 hours) to report bear behavior and information or if you have questions regarding bears in town.