Face-to-face with a bear? Here's what to do if that happens, or in any scary wildlife encounter

A Bisbee homeowner heard a noise coming from the addition to her home one day last month, and after investigating, she came face-to-face with a young black bear that had climbed through the window. The bear fled and no one was hurt, but it broke into a second Bisbee home two days later.

The bear didn't seem to be threatening anyone, but police euthanized it after several sightings.

As bears prepare for winter, sightings and encounters tend to increase as the animals seek food before hibernation. But experts say it's up to people to adjust their behavior, because the wildlife probably won't.

Arizona has a diverse wildlife population to look out for, including snakes, scorpions, coyotes, mountain lions and javelinas. Bear attacks are rare, but knowing how to act during wildlife encounters — and how to avoid them — can protect you from dangerous run-ins.

Here’s what to know about wildlife encounters:

How can you prevent encounters with wild animals?

You can take a few steps to reduce your chances of wildlife encounters near your home.

As animals seek food in residential areas, people should to secure trash, remove bird feeders and pick up fallen fruit from trees. If you have pets, do not leave them or their food in your yard unattended, especially if wildlife sightings are common in your neighborhood.

“If we’re concerned about wildlife coming into the environment, we shouldn’t think about how we can change that animal’s behavior to move out of there,” said Adam Stein, a professor of applied biological sciences at Arizona State University. “We should think about how we change within our society so that food isn’t available for animals in the environments that we don’t want them in.”

If you live in an area bordering the desert, there’s a higher possibility for wildlife encounters. Wildlife experts recommend keeping a tidy yard, removing clutter and trimming vegetation that could be inviting to wildlife, especially snakes and scorpions.

Adding fencing to your yard and filling in gaps or cracks in existing fences and foundations can also keep wildlife out. Many animals are attracted to water, so preventing access to pools and fixing leaky hoses or irrigation can hinder curious visitors.

When you’re outside or walking pets, it’s important to be alert to avoid unwanted run-ins.

“You have to be aware of your surroundings,” said Heather Bateman, a professor and field ecologist from ASU who studies human-wildlife interactions with amphibians, reptiles and birds. “Having lights around so you can see where your feet are for you and your pets is going to be important.”

While it may be tempting to help wildlife find their next meal, you should never feed wild animals. It is illegal in Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties. Other counties have anti-feeding ordinances, preventing residents from feeding bears, coyotes, javelinas and mountain lions.

Wildlife encounters: Bears in Arizona: What to do (and what not to do) if you see one

What should you do during a wildlife encounter?

Even if you have done everything right, you can’t always prevent an animal from wandering into your yard.

When face-to-face with a wild animal, try to stay calm and do not run. For bears especially, make loud noises to scare them away. Yelling, using a whistle or an air horn, waving your arms or throwing objects can help.

If the animal approaches, back away slowly and continue making loud noises. Do not turn your back, and maintain direct eye contact if encountering a mountain lion or coyote. Attacks from bears, coyotes and mountain lions are exceptionally uncommon, but it's best not to run if it does happen. Using bear or pepper spray is typically effective, and fighting back should be a last resort.

“Nine times out of 10 that animal wants to leave that encounter, so you want to make sure that you aren’t blocking an exit route for that animal,” Stein said. “I think that’s when that escalation can occur.”

When walking pets, follow the same advice and ensure that your pet does not run or attack the animal. If you encounter a javelina while walking your dog, immediately walk in the opposite direction. A javelina can confuse dogs for coyotes — one of their predators — and attack them.

It is against the law to shoot wildlife unless there is an immediate threat. Report the sighting to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, 623 236-7201, and dial 911 if there is an emergency.

Hikers should carry bear spray on excursions, especially at or above 5,000 feet elevation, where bears tend to seek food. To avoid bites and stings from snakes, scorpions or spiders, experts advise sticking to trails and bypassing bushes, tall grass and rocks that could be shady hiding spots.

Bear encounter: Man dies after 'exceedingly rare' bear attack near Prescott

Why are wildlife encounters becoming more common?

As neighborhoods expand into desert space, animals venture into yards and traverse sidewalks, seeking food, water and shelter. Animal encounters like the bear sighting in Bisbee are happening more frequently. And from hikers to homeowners, it has become a common occurrence for people to share their confrontations with wild animals on social media.

In a summer with sweltering temperatures and little rainfall, animals needed a reprieve from the heat, too. Finding a snake hiding from the sun in metro Phoenix is more likely in those conditions.

With the onset of fall, bear encounters are more likely as they stray into neighborhoods and rummage through garbage cans looking for food. They can eat up to 20,000 calories a day in the fall as they prepare for hibernation.

“Bears right now are bulking up before denning up for semi-hibernation,” said Mark Hart, Arizona Game and Fish Department’s public information officer. “It is not uncommon to have bears foraging in residential areas when they should be up at 5,000 feet eating juniper berries, manzanita nuts and acorns.”

Luckily, bears will not be scavenging for too long. They tend to retreat into hibernation from November through March.

Hayleigh Evans covers environmental issues for The Arizona Republic and azcentral. Send tips or questions to hayleigh.evans@arizonarepublic.com.

Environmental coverage on azcentral.com and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Sign up for AZ Climate, our weekly environment newsletter, and follow The Republic environmental reporting team at environment.azcentral.com and @azcenvironment on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You can support environmental journalism in Arizona by subscribing to azcentral today.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: How should you handle an encounter with a wild animal in Arizona?