3 Bears killed after Payson-area attacks; DNA testing under way

Posted: Updated:
By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PAYSON, Ariz. -- Three black bears that may be linked to three recent attacks in the Payson area have been tracked and killed, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Authorities lethally removed two black bears Sunday evening from the area around Ponderosa Campground in the Tonto National Forest in response to a bear attack that occurred there earlier in the morning.

Game and Fish spokesman Jim Paxon said a young adult male bear weighing about 160 pounds was caught one mile south of the campground and a large adult female that weighed about 300 pounds was found three miles south of the campground in the Hellsgate Wilderness. Dogs tracked the bears from a scent trail near the campground.

A young bear was killed Saturday when it was tracked by hounds from near the site of the second attack near Tonto Village to the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery.

Officials said it was imperative that the bears be lethally removed because of the aggressive, predatory behavior exhibited during the attacks.

DNA testing will confirm if these bears were the ones involved in the attacks on two men and one woman in the past month.

Peter Baca, 30, of Tempe, is in critical condition but is expected to survive after he was attacked by a bear Sunday morning while sleeping in a tent in the Ponderosa Campground. Baca suffered serious wounds to his head and arm, as well as a broken hand and severed ear.

A construction worker was attacked by a bear while he was sleeping in an unfinished cabin in the Tonto Village area Thursday night. Jason Amperse received bite marks and scratches on his legs.

A bear attacked a 74-year-old woman sleeping in a tent in the Ponderosa Campground May 31. The bear reportedly stuck its head in and clawed at the woman, leaving her with bruises and a laceration on her scalp.

Officials estimate that there are 2,500 to 3,000 bears in Arizona.

"Until we receive the results of the DNA analysis, we will not know whether these three recent attacks can be attributed to one bear or three different bears," said Rod Lucas, regional supervisor for Game and Fish. "DNA examination is critical in this case for helping prove or disprove a link between the attacks."

Forest officials have temporarily closed the Ponderosa Campground, the Christopher Creek Campground and the Sharp Creek Campground in response to the attacks.