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First mountain lions were frightening residents in three small Garfield County towns east of Bryce Canyon National Park.

Now, two bears have been romping through the area, officials reported Thursday.In addition, a cougar also has been reported on the prowl near Panguitch, about 30 miles west of the park.

Residents of the towns of Henrieville, Cannonville and Tropic, located below the park, were first frightened by roaming cougars late last winter.

Recently one bear scared youngsters playing along Henrieville Creek, and the tracks of another have been seen in Tropic.

The first bear was initially sighted midway between Cannonville and Henrieville by Nancy Chynoweth. Two days later, 9-year-old Kyle Johnson and his friends quickly darted from home when they saw the bear where they were playing. They were so frightened they left their bicycles at the site.

The tracks of the second bear, smaller than the first, were found in a driveway at the Larvin Pollock residence in Tropic. It is believed to be the same animal that has been seen on trails in the east sector of Bryce Canyon National Park, according to Clint Mecham, who conducts daily horseback rides for tourists.

Mecham, a professional mountain lion hunter who is experienced with all species of wildlife in the area, said tracks of the larger bear indicated it is was a mature animal. But he believes it has now left the area. He speculated the animal's home territory is probably on Canaan Mountain, but that he may be a young male seeking to enlarge his territories.

The wildlife specialist said he believes a smaller bear - possibly a 2-year-old male who has recently been weaned from its mother - is also endeavoring to establish its own territory.

This isn't the first time bears have been seen in the area.

One wandered into Cannonville four years ago, disrupting a family dinner. That town now holds an annual "bear festival."

Meanwhile, a cougar was reported seen near Sportsman Paradise, a recreational vehicle park north of Panguitch. The lion was sighted by park visitors as it ran through an adjacent pasture toward the residents of Joe Nay. He keeps goats at his property but said they haven't been bothered by mountain lions.

Two cougars were killed last winter east of Bryce Canyon after the first one was seen in Henrieville. This incident was later followed by a sighting and destruction of a third lion between Henrieville and Tropic.

Mecham reported the state's policy has been changed in responding to wild animals being found in populated areas or in non-populated areas that are frequented by people. In the past, efforts to capture or destroy such animals have been delayed until their actions determine whether they might become dangerous.

DWR field personnel have been instructed to set traps immediately or to chase or tranquilize cougars and the bears so that they can be relocated to less populated areas.