—NEW MEXICO DEPARTMENT OF GAME
A hiker’s encounter with a black bear in the Sandia Mountains
was the latest of several reports of bears on the move and looking
for food in the mountains, foothills, and bordering communities
throughout New Mexico.
From Taos and Raton in the north to Silver
City and Ruidoso in the south, black bears are out and about. Residents
and visitors in bear country statewide are reminded to take appropriate
precautions to protect themselves, their property, and the bears.
The hiker who came upon a black bear on May 6 in the Sandias put
himself in danger because he wasn’t sure what to do when encountering
a bear or other large predator. The man ran from the bear, and the
bear followed him. Fortunately, he was able to contact Department
of Game and Fish Conservation Officer Darrell Cole on his cell phone,
and Cole advised him to hold his ground and fight back by throwing
rocks at the bear. The strategy worked—the bear sniffed a
rock and walked away, and the hiker returned home with a good story.
“Bear attacks are rare, but whenever
you come across a bear, it’s very important not to run, no
matter how scared you may be,” Cole said. “Running may
prompt a bear to give chase, and you cannot outrun a bear.”
This is good advice, but few people expected
that it would be come in handy in downtown Rio Rancho where conservation
officer Darrell Cole described a “typical bear call”
with a remarkably happy ending, especially considering it happened
during rush hour. Department of Game and Fish officers tranquilized
and removed a young black bear from inside Presbyterian Hospital
in Rio Rancho about 7:30 a.m. on May 19. The one hundred twenty-five
pound male bear was transported and released in the Manzano Mountains
later that morning.
The bear apparently was able to enter the hospital
by hitting an automatic door opener. A few witnesses inside said
the bear did not threaten anyone or damage anything. Once inside,
it retreated into a side room while Rio Rancho Police and Animal
Control officers evacuated the immediate area. The bear retreated
further into a restroom and was sedated within about a minute after
it was darted by Game and Fish officers Cole and John Martsh.
“I guess if you’re going to be
darted with tranquilizer, you might as well get it done in a hospital,”
The Department of Game and Fish reminds people who live in or near
bear country to take precautions to avoid encounters with black
bears. The department publishes a booklet, “Living with Large
Predators,” which is available on the Department website,
www.wildlife.state.nm.us, or by calling (505) 476-8000. The booklet
contains important information about bears, cougars, and coyotes
and how to avoid conflicts with them.
Of feral dogs, and feral Westerners
Feral dogs are more common in the rural West than bathtub methamphetamine
labs or chainsaw carvers. They roam dumps, harass and attack wildlife
and livestock, and I know from painful experience that they lie
in wait on two-lane roads to discipline bicyclists.
“Rez” dogs may be famous for scavenging in roadside
ditches outside Tuba City, Ariz., and Gallup, N.M., but chances
are, if you’re living anyplace in the rural West—and
that means not in a resort town—you’re going to meet
a feral dog.
This leads me to suggest the feral dog as the region’s mascot.
Sure, there are those who will protest; they’ll say wolves
or bears or wild horses stand for the wide-open spaces of the American
West. Thing is, there aren’t that many open spaces left. Feral
dogs, on the other hand, can be found in every corner of the region.
They also better represent the sort of freedom—libertarian,
hardscrabble, pathologically independent, persevering and often
ugly—that we embrace here in the rural West.
Take the pack of feral pups that gained semi-celebrity status
in our spread-out county in western Colorado. Someone must have
been unable to care for a couple of border collies, so the dogs
were dropped off not far from a county dump, perhaps at the end
of a gravel road where people drop off old televisions, and where
teenagers pass the time by holding kegger parties and shooting at
road signs. Eventually, the collie couple took shelter in a line
of rusty cars sinking into the dirt. There, they bred without restraint,
and by last fall the pack’s numbers had grown to some two-dozen
animals scraping out a bleak existence. They ate roadkill and chased
speeding cars down the highway, occasionally getting caught and
crushed beneath the tires.
This was made possible, in part, because here in Delta County
we don’t have a tax-supported supported animal shelter; in
fact, we lack a lot that government normally provides. As is the
case in much of the West, the loudest among us don’t want
elected officials messing with our guns, our private lives, our
homes, or even our neglected pets. Zoning is the “Z”
word, and we can pretty much do whatever we want with our property.
That means you can build some kind of ultra-efficient hippie home
with composting toilets, or stack a few trailers on top of one another
and call it a modular mansion. It’s fine until someone opens
a hog farm or a gravel pit next door.
In the West, we’ve been so successful in keeping the government
at bay that we’ve begun to look as ragged around the edges
as a feral dog. Studies show we are less likely to have health insurance
than anyone else in the nation, and adequate medical facilities
are few and far between. Spending on public education is pathetic
in this region, lagging far behind other states. Mental-health care
is particularly under-funded, though many of us would probably rather
be left alone anyway, to self-medicate. There are more substance-abusers
in the West who need treatment but don’t get it, than anywhere
else in the country.
When you stop and think about it, we’ve a lot in common
with feral dogs. Perhaps equity refugees living in half-million
dollar homes in the region’s resort towns can’t relate;
for them, a well-groomed golden retriever who accompanies them on
the morning run is a more appropriate mascot. But in the other West,
the often-forgotten West—the underbelly where the housekeepers,
dishwashers and other workers live—there’s the feral
dog, the little pit-bull mongrel who can pierce a $100 running shoe
and rip through an Achilles’ tendon in under a second.
In my county, the border-collie brood was finally gathered up
by a volunteer animal rescue organization, which then spread the
word that some 24 bred-to-herd, highly intelligent border collies
needed homes. It didn’t take long for people from all over
the country to swoop in and adopt all of the pups. Even semi-wild
canines, it seems, can reverse their fate.
What that symbolizes, I can’t say. But as a feral Westerner
myself, I’d be happy to sit around and talk about it. You
bring your guns. I’ll bring the beer. We’ll go down
to the end of the road and shoot up some signs or something.
Jonathan Thompson is a contributor to Writers
on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado
(hcn.org). He is the paper’s associate editor.
U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife
1.746 million: Number of animals killed in 2005 by the U.S. Department
of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, whose mission is to “resolve
wildlife conflicts and create a balance that allows people and wildlife
to coexist peacefully.”
32: Number of endangered black-footed ferrets killed by coyotes
449: Number of pets killed by coyotes in California
1,744: Number of lambs killed by coyotes in Wyoming
72,817: Number of coyotes killed in the U.S. by Wildlife Services
39: Number of lambs killed by golden eagles in Wyoming
3: Number of eagles killed in the U.S. by Wildlife Services
166: Number of cattle and sheep killed by feral dogs in Arizona
165: Number of feral dogs killed by Wildlife Services in Arizona
1,147/552: Number of feral cats Wildlife Services killed and freed,
respectively, in the U.S.
1.23 million: Number of European starlings killed in the U.S. by
1: Number of feral sheep killed by Wildlife Services in Wyoming
Source: 2005 figures, U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services