Three campgrounds closed around Payson due to bear attacks and repeat bear sightings

 Payson, Ariz. (June 24, 2012) – Tonto National Forest officials announced today a second temporary area closure due to a bear attack early this morning in the Ponderosa Campground.   Campers have left the campground.  This is the second bear attack in the Ponderosa campground and the second area closure during the last month.

“First of all, we want to express our concern and convey our positive thoughts for the victim and his loved ones and wish him a speedy recovery,” stated Forest Supervisor Neil Bosworth.

 “Due to public health and safety concerns and the preponderance of bear sightings this year, along with three attacks on humans in the last two months, we are extending the closure area to also include Christopher Creek Campground and Sharp Creek Campground,” he continued. 

 “The purpose of the closure is to provide for public health and safety during the ongoing management of the bear attack incidents.  Our most extensive ‘Bear Aware’ educational efforts and warnings to the public to take extra precautions while camping this year, due to increased bear sightings and attacks, must now escalate to area closures.  Despite the ongoing efforts of our Arizona Game and Fish partners, who are conducting bear tracking and trapping efforts as a result of these bear attacks on humans, we simply cannot ensure camper safety in these areas and need to take more immediate steps to protect the public.”

 The area closure order is effective immediately until July 15, at which time the closure will be reevaluated.   

 Today’s attack, on a sleeping male camper in the Ponderosa Campground, prompts this second area closure.  Forest officials closed the Ponderosa campground for nearly two weeks earlier this year after an attack on May 31, when a bear entered a tent in the Ponderosa Campground and clawed a sleeping female camper.  The woman’s injuries were non-life-threatening. Despite tracking and trapping efforts by Arizona Game and Fish and Wildlife Services, that bear was never trapped.   The campground was re-opened on June 12.

 The campground closure area is bounded by the junction of Hwy 260 and Forest Road (FR) 405-A, south to Forest Road 893 continuing south on FR 893 (approximately 0.5 miles) until its junction with Forest Trail 37, then south on Trail 37 to the Hellsgate Wilderness boundary line, then northeast along the Wilderness boundary line to FR 405 and north along FR 405 to its junction with Hwy 260, then south to its junction with Forest Road 405-A.  

 The following roads in this area are closed:  FR 405-A, FR 405, FR 893, FR 1625, and Forest Trail 37.

 Sharp Creek and Christopher Creek campgrounds are also closed, effective immediately.  Campers have been evacuated from both these campgrounds as well as the Ponderosa Campground.

On Friday, there was a bear attack on a sleeping male construction worker in the Thompson Draw area.  According to Arizona Game and Fish officials in an earlier news release describing the attack:   

An Arizona man was injured last night when a bear bit his lower leg while he was sleeping on a cot in a cabin under construction in Tonto Village, east of Payson.  

The bear entered the unfinished cabin and climbed on top of the man, biting him through his pajamas. The man moved and yelled. The bear ran off, but lingered in the nearby area for approximately 45 minutes. One other man was present at the cabin when the incident occurred.

Based on the bite mark measurements, Arizona Game and Fish Department officers believe the bear was a large adult male. 

Game and Fish officers will continue to investigate the incident and will set culvert traps in the vicinity to attempt to capture the bear. The department is also working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to track the bear.

 Ponderosa campground is 12 miles northeast of Payson, with 61 camp units available with picnic tables, grills and fire rings. 10 campsites are available for first come-first serve. Abert Nature Trail is a self-guided trail that loops the perimeter of the campground.

 Christopher Creek campground is 19 miles northeast of Payson on State Highway 260.  There are 43 camp units available with tables, grills, trash service, and campfire rings provided.

 Sharp Creek campground is located 23 miles northeast of Payson on the south side of Highway 260, approximately 1½ miles east of Christopher Creek. There are 28 camp units available with picnic tables, grills, campfire rings and lantern holders provided.

 For more information about wildlife on the Tonto National Forest, please contact the Arizona Game and Fish Mesa Office at 480-981-9400.

 For further information about the area closure, see the forest website, or call the Payson Ranger District administrative offices at: 928-474-7900.

 MEDIA ONLY:  For further information about the bear attack and bear tracking efforts, please contact Arizona Game and Fish spokesperson Jim Paxon at  623-236-7226, or Tom Cadden at  623-236-7392