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Bears at the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center investigate a cooler. (Photo: Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center)

PHOENIX -- Summertime in northern Arizona means camp-outs and a chance encounter with bears.

Arizona is in a long-term drought which means bears are hungry and thirsty. Forest Road 171 was closed recently near Young, Ariz., east of Payson, because of an increase in bear sightings. It will be closed to camping until the area has been cleared of bears.

"They're hurting right now and looking for food sources and if they can find an easy source in your tent or a cooler, they'll go for it and they will keep returning to that campsite," said Kim Carr with the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center. "If they become a nuisance they will have to be removed or destroyed, unfortunately."

The Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center is offering its annual "Be Bear Aware" event Tuesday to teach people about bear safety and how to reduce the risk of attracting a bear to campsites. Carr said bears can smell food for miles. Anything that has the aroma of food needs to be stored away.

"Cooking utensils, even the clothes you cook in will attract bears and shouldn't be stored in a tent. You need to dispose of food properly and store it properly. "

Reservations and a $30 pre-payment are required for Tuesday's event. To register, call (480) 471-3621 or sign up on the group's website. The Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center is located on 156th Street south of Rio Verde in Scottsdale.

Jim Cross, Reporter

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