The Tonto National Forest is reopening and modifying closures of some of its campgrounds following three bear attacks on campers in May and June.

“Extensive ‘Bear Aware’ educational efforts and warning to the public to take extra precautions while camping this year will continue,” said Rachel Hohl, district recreation specialist. “More bear-proof trashcans have been ordered and will be installed when the district receives them.”

Two campsites in the Payson Ranger District will be open, while an additional two will be open for hard-sided campers only. Three other sites will be open for day use only and the Ponderosa Campground, where two of the attacks occurred, will remain closed.

All open campsites will be outfitted with bear-proof garbage cans and visitors will be given additional tips on how to discourage bears from entering campsites.

Three black bears were euthanized last month, but two were not the bear responsible for the attacks; the tests on the third were inconclusive. None of the bears tested positive for rabies. “Bears being bears, they don’t like humans,” said Jim Paxon, a spokesman for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Typically, bears stay away from humans and bear sightings are rare despite a large habitation zone that includes areas in Scottsdale, Carefree, Fountain Hills and Gilbert, Paxon said. It’s only when bears are unable to find traditional food sources that they wander near people.

In the last three or four years, there have been higher instances of bear sightings, Paxon said. Most of this is caused by lack of rain, which in turn leads to fewer natural food sources for bears.

“We’re in the 19th year of drought,” he said. “Ninety-two or ’93 was the last year of regular rainfall and snowpack.”

With the recent rain, it’s expected that there will be more berries, flowers, prickly pear and other vegetation for bears to eat, Paxon said.

“We have not had any additional captures,” he said. The bear traps and bait traps have since been removed.

The restrictions have been lifted in Sharp Creek, and Houston Mesa/Horse Camp campgrounds will be open. The Christopher Creek and Upper Tonto sites will reopen, but only to hard-sided campers (the spots in Upper Tonto are small, so all trailers have to be short or only over camper type mounts).

Three areas will be closed for overnight camping, but will be open for day use only. The Tonto Walk-In, which normally only allows tents, will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and remain closed to overnight camping. The 405/405A Dispersed Loop (including Bear Flats and Lower Tonto Creek) and the Upper Tonto Creek Dispersed Area and Horton Trail Area will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Ponderosa Campground will remain closed for the season.

For further information, see the forest website at or call the Payson Ranger District administrative offices at (928) 474-7900.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-5645 or

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