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Black Bear in forest

Bear Awareness

Help keep wildlife wild by remembering these bear-wise basics:

  1. Never feed or approach bears. 
    • Feeding bears—intentionally or unintentionally—trains them to approach buildings and people to find food. It is illegal to knowingly or unknowingly feed bears and can be cause for citations.
  2. Unsecured garbage is the primary cause of most human bear conflicts. 
    • Bears generally avoid humans unless they become conditioned to eating human food or garbage.
  3. Secure your food and garbage. 
    • Food and food odors attract bears so don’t reward them with easily accessible garbage or food (including pet food left outside).
  4. Remove bird feeders when bears are active and at night
    • Or only put feeders out during the winter.
  5. Clean and store grills 
    • To make sure that all grease, fat, and food particles are removed.
  6. Don’t put trash out until the morning of your collection.
    • Store your garbage can in your garage or purchase a bear proof trash can from Los Alamos County.

Two of the most frequent causes of death for black bears are predation by other bears and becoming a “nuisance bear” by getting used to accessible human garbage and subsequently having to be killed. There are many reasons why a bear will seek out human-provided food resources. Drought, wildfire, seasonal fluctuations in natural food resources, competition from other bears, or territory expansion/exploration by juveniles are all possible reasons why bears may extend their range looking for food. Their keen sense of smell can lead them to easily accessible human garbage. The odors of materials that have touched food will even be viewed and consumed as food by bears. These behaviors, while not considered natural, can be taught to young by mother bears.

The most effective solution to deter a bear is to bring in or make inaccessible any potential food sources. If the bear wanders into a neighborhood and does not find food available it will move on. If they do find a steady and reliable source of food, like an open trash bin, they will continue to return. It is in their nature to move from one available food resource to another as food becomes seasonally available. Once bears get too accustomed to a trash resource they become a hazard for humans. In cases where there was an actual attack on humans, pets, or livestock the bear is killed. In some cases trapping and relocating nuisance bears can be an option. The bear is ear tagged and relocated and if the bear continues to be a nuisance or is considered to be dangerous it is killed. 

An inaccurate public perception is that relocating nuisance bears means a “happily ever after” ending for everyone involved. However, most transplant bears don’t have good odds for survival with only a 30-35% success rate for adult bears. If a nuisance bear is moved into another bear’s territory the resident bears will chase them away or kill them. Young cubs moved with their mother may also share this fate. Additionally, a relocated bear will travel vast distances to find its way “home” or will continue their bad habitats in their new location. Female black bears remain near their birth site throughout their life so juvenile females are likely to try harder to return to the capture area than young adult males (< 4 years old). Whether a bear is moved or not, human food availability at the original location still needs to be addressed. Relocation merely treats the symptoms, not the initial problem of bears accessing human food. New bears will fill the empty territory left by the relocated bears and a new cycle of bears utilizing human foods and subsequent conflict will begin. We can all do our best at home and at work to minimize human-bear interactions. The scenarios described above are observed every year, and are ones that are completely preventable. People living in close proximity to bear habitat must be aware about the potential for interaction if poor choices regarding waste management are made.

Family of bears crossing street
A bear and her three cubs inspecting an empty trashcan on Barranca Mesa in Los Alamos. These bears were eventually trapped and relocated by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. Cornell Wright

For more information about bear awareness, check out this pamphlet from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish on the history of bears in New Mexico, why relocating bears is difficult, and some tips on keeping yourself and our bear population safe.

Here is some additional information about how to use Bear-Proof Dumpsters.

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How to use bear-proof dumpsters
Wildlife and Climate Change

Wildlife and Climate Change

Threats from Climate Change

Warming temperatures are just one of the many threats climate change poses to wildlife. Droughts can affect water and food supplies. False springs – warm, mid-winter days – can cause plants to flower prematurely. Fires can destroy habitats and food supply, and smoke from fires can be a threat as well. Urbanization damages the natural habitats of many wildlife species. Heat waves in the spring can endanger young wildlife. Heavy rainfall can lead to flooding, affecting both habitat and food supply. Rising water levels can flood shoreline habitats. Agricultural expansion can also infringe upon wildlife habitats. 

As far back as 2008, more than 50 animals and plants native to New Mexico were affected by climate change, with more than half of climate change-driven ecological changes resulting in population declines. New Mexico has continued to warm, posing an even bigger threat today.

Amphibians of New Mexico

Many of New Mexico’s amphibian species are threatened by climate change. Among the most vulnerable are the northern leopard frog (see image), the western chorus frog, the barred tiger salamander, and Woodhouse’s toad. Threatened amphibians are most affected by changes in water sources, increased water temperatures, and habitat loss.

New Mexico amphibian

Birds of New Mexico

New Mexico has a large population of bird species, and climate change can pose a serious threat to their survival. Warming temperatures of 1.5o C can increase the number of highly and moderately vulnerable species from 0 to 75, and an increase in 3o C is expected to result in 116 highly or moderately vulnerable species. The red-naped sapsucker (see image) is one of New Mexico’s most vulnerable species. A temperature increase of 1.5o C would reduce its habitable range by more than 50%, and a 3o C increase would result in nearly 75% habitable range decrease.

Birds of New Mexico

Mammals of New Mexico

Climate change affects mammals across New Mexico, from mice, bears, and beavers to foxes, rats, bats, and even porcupines. The New Mexican jumping mouse is most affected, followed by the black bear (see image), and hoary bat.

Mammals are most affected by warming temperatures, shifts in prey reproduction timelines, habitats, short lifespans, and water supply/precipitation changes.

Reptiles of New Mexico

New Mexico has mostly aquatic, semi-aquatic, and terrestrial reptiles, and all kinds are affected by climate change in the state. Reptiles are mostly affected by habitat, soil moisture, invasive species, wildfires, and precipitation changes. The most vulnerable reptiles are the Great Plains skink (see image), the backnecked gartersnake, and the desert spiny lizard.

New Mexico reptile

References

“Climate Initiative | Audubon New Mexico.” National Audubon Society, National Audubon Society, accessed March 28, 2021, nm.audubon.org/conservation/climate. 

Friggens, Megan M., Finch, Deborah M., Bagne, Karen E., Coe, Sharon J., Hawksworth, David L. “Vulnerability of Species to Climate Change in the Southwest: Terrestrial Species of the Middle Rio Grande.” United States Department of Agriculture, General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-306, July 2013.

“How Climate Change Will Affect New Mexico’s Birds | Audubon.” National Audubon Society, National Audubon Society, accessed March 28, 2021, www.audubon.org/climate/survivalbydesgrees/state/us/nm. 

https://nm.audubon.org/conservation/climate

https://www.nmconservation.org/field-notes/2018/12/5/climate-change-in-new-mexico

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Deer crossing road

Driving to Protect Wildlife and Yourself

Every year, it is estimated that there are at least close to 2 million collisions with wildlife across the country. We all benefit from the vast open spaces and abundant wildlife in New Mexico but need to exercise special caution when driving to protect both wildlife and ourselves. The 2020-2021 likelihood of collision with animals in New Mexico was 1 in 221. 

Below you will find Tips for Safe Driving as well as information about safer crossings initiatives.

Tips for Safe Driving Around Wildlife in New Mexico

Slow Down: The most important way to avoid collisions with wildlife is to slow down and observe the speed limit.

  • Reducing your speed will give you more time to brake if an animal darts in your path.
  • Pay attention to those wildlife-crossing signs! Signs are posted in areas known for being active for wildlife encounters.

Use Your Eyes: Avoid a collision by keeping your eyes on the road. 

  • At night, look for glowing eyes (“eye-shine”) of animals in the distance. 
  • Passengers can help to watch for wildlife on or near the road as well. 

Be Mindful of Peak Areas and Times: Be on your highest alert at dusk and dawn, when many animals are most active. 

  • Deer are most active between 6 and 9 pm, which is also a time when most drivers find it difficult to see, are most sleepy, and less alert behind the wheel.
  • Springtime is when most wildlife families with their young are on the move.

Don’t Tailgate: Keep a safe distance between you and the car in front of you.

  • A safe following distance can help avoid any unnecessary accidents.
  • If a driver brakes suddenly for an animal in the road, you need to be able to react in enough time to stop safely too.

Use Your Brights: Your high-beam lights are there for a reason, don’t be afraid to use them! 

  • Brighter lights will increase your visibility. 
  • Be courteous and be sure to dim your high beams when an oncoming car is traveling within 500 feet of you.

Remember that Some Wildlife like Antelope, Deer and Elk Tend to Travel in Herds

  • When you spot one antelope, deer or elk crossing the road, another could be right behind. 
  • Slow down and watch for others that may be tagging along.
Wildlife overpass

What Else Can I do to Help Protect New Mexico Wildlife?

Get Involved! Wild Friends is a civics education program at the UNM School of Law. Since 1991, over 12,000 students have participated in Wild Friends programs and have learned how to help pass laws and take other action to help keep wildlife safe. They work to help make crossings safer for wildlife and drivers. 

Watch more here: Making Crossings Safe for Wildlife and Drivers

Resources:

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Endangered Species owl

Wildlife Law and Endangered Species in New Mexico

New Mexico has 127 federal or state threatened or endangered species and is a flyway for migratory birds. Los Alamos County alone has eleven federal or state threatened or endangered species. You can check what threatened or endangered species may be present in your county by running a County Species Report on the Biota Information System of New Mexico (BISON-M) offered by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. Area migratory birds include many species, such as the Western Tanager, the Black-Headed Grosbeak, and the Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

Laws that Protect Wildlife

There are many environmental laws that protect some of our precious wildlife. For example, state laws regulate and prohibit the unauthorized taking (poaching) of game animals like elk and deer that are important for helping with wildlife population health. Two major federal laws—the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act—also play a significant role.

The Endangered Species Act

The federal Endangered Species Act conserves species that are “endangered or threatened throughout all or a significant portion of their range, and the conservation of the ecosystems on which they depend.” The endangered species act covers plants, marine mammals, and wildlife and is designed to protect the biodiversity of life by preventing species extinction. The Endangered Species Act has helped stabilize populations of species at risk, prevented the extinction of many others, and conserved the habitats upon which they depend.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act

The Migratory Bird Treaty act provides protections for over 1,000 species of birds, and nearly all North American birds are protected under this law. Birds do not need to be threatened or endangered to receive protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Instead, migratory birds recognized in international agreements between the United States and Canada, Japan, Mexico, and Russia are given protection under federal law in the United States. Most North American birds, including ravens, are covered by this law. The law prohibits the wounding, shooting, trapping, selling, transport, or killing of protected birds.

Endangered Species and Sensitive Species around LANL

In Los Alamos County, there are eleven federal or state threatened or endangered species. At LANL, there are three federally-listed protected endangered species including the Jemez Mountains Salamander (Plethodon neomexicanus), the Mexican Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis lucida),  Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus). LANL maintains a Threatened and Endangered Species Habitat Management Plan that describes how threatened and endangered species and their habitats are managed at LANL. Each of these species is described below.

Jemez Mountain Salamander

The Jemez Mountains Salamander

The Jemez Mountains Salamander is one of two endemic, lungless salamanders in New Mexico. It is strictly terrestrial and as such resides in moist canyons with a mixed conifer habitat. The Jemez Mountains Salamander was listed as endangered in 2013. At LANL, there are nine areas of environmental interest composed of Jemez Mountains Salamander habitat.

Mexican Spotted Owl

The Mexican Spotted Owl

The Mexican spotted owl generally inhabits mixed conifer and ponderosa pine forests in mountains and canyons. A mated pair of adult spotted owls may use the same home range and general nesting areas throughout their lives.

The Mexican spotted owl was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1993. At LANL there are presently five areas of environmental interest composed of Mexican spotted owl habitat.

Southwestern willow flycatcher

The Southwestern Willow Flycatcher

The Southwestern willow flycatcher breeds only in dense 

riparian habitats in the southwestern United States. In New Mexico, the species is found primarily along the Gila River and Rio Grande drainages. It is vulnerable to the loss, fragmentation, and modification of riparian breeding habitat, including the removal of exotic vegetation along the Rio Grande, where nesting in salt cedar is a regular occurrence.

The southwestern willow flycatcher was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1995. At LANL, there is one area managed as southwestern willow flycatcher habitat under the Habitat Management Plan.

References:

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Tour Of New Mexico Wildlife Center

Come take a tour of New Mexico Wildlife Center! Join Education Coordinator Chase for a visit with the animal ambassadors, get a sneak peak into the wildlife hospital, and meet the newest animal ambassador!