RENO — For better or worse, Mother Nature helped Nevada wildlife officials kick off a monthlong “bear awareness” campaign this week to combat danger on the roadways around Lake Tahoe and, more importantly, conflicts in neighborhoods with bad trash habits up and down the Sierra’s eastern front.
In the four days since Gov. Brian Sandoval declared July “BEAR Logic Month” on Tuesday, three troublesome black bears were captured and returned to the wild and a fourth was struck and killed by a car
The latest to become a poster child in the campaign — unbeknownst to him — had been raiding garbage cans in the foothills of southwest Reno before game wardens trapped him Thursday and released him back to the Sierra on Friday.
Two others were returned to the wild near Carson City a day after their capture in Incline Village on Tahoe’s north shore on Tuesday, the same day a bear was hit by a car about 10 miles south near Spooner Summit.
“The bears quickly illustrated the reason why the special month to promote bear awareness in Nevada is needed,” Nevada Department of Wildlife spokesman Chris Healy said.
The BEAR in “BEAR Logic Month” stands for Bear Education, Aversion and Research. The campaign includes public service announcements and a new resource page on NDOW’s website: www.ndow.org/Bear.
With the latest death, 170 bears have been killed in Nevada by vehicles since 1997 — an average of 10 a year, NDOW said.
Of more concern are the so-called “garbage bears,” according to wildlife biologists who estimate nearly 95 percent of all human-bear conflicts are trash related.
Including the 170 hit by cars, NDOW has captured or otherwise handled more than 1,000 bears since 1997. Most are first-time offenders and released back to the wild, but at least 118 have been killed or euthanized as threats to public safety (84) or livestock (34), according to NDOW.
Wildlife experts have warned for months that this summer likely bring more trouble than usual. A 3-year-old drought has dried up many natural food sources and bears are expected to greatly expand their search for food.
Bear complaints in the Sierra have risen sharply over the past decade, partly because of an increase in people encroaching on bear habitat, said Carl Lackey, the state’s chief game biologist.
“Some people don’t recognize that they live in wildlife habitat,” he said. “But anywhere along the Carson Front — from Reno to Gardnerville — including the Tahoe Basin and associated mountain ranges is bear habitat.”
Between 500 and 700 black bears currently make Nevada home, part of a Sierra-wide population estimated between 10,000 and 15,000, NDOW officials said.
Bears naturally fear humans, but given access to human food sources they can become addicted, lose their fear and become aggressive, Lackey said. Their powerful sense of smell leads them to food humans consider out of reach, he said.
“As always the main issue is people living in bear habitat and allowing bear’s access to their trash,” he said. “We’ve proven that by stopping access to human sources of food the wildlife conflicts almost totally disappear.”