RENO - The killing of a rogue bear has caused a rift in a Lake Tahoe community, where some residents claim California wildlife officials destroyed the wrong bruin for which a trap had been set.
''We're all terribly upset about it,'' said Sylvia Cornish, who lives on the California side of Lake Tahoe on Rubicon Bay.
''They got the wrong bear.''
But California Fish and Game officials said the male bear that was trapped and destroyed last week was another nuisance bear that twice had broken into at least one home while the residents were inside and for which a separate trap-and-kill permit had been issued.
''If it was a normal bear, it wouldn't be hanging around houses. It'd be out eating berries and flipping logs,'' said Darrell Stevenson, game warden at South Lake Tahoe.
The controversy centers on a mother bear with two cubs suspected of nearly a dozen home invasions in the Homewood area on the lake's west side.
After aversion tactics - shooting it with rubber bullets and pepper spray - failed to deter the animal, members of Bear League, a wildlife advocacy group, agreed that the mother bear needed to be destroyed.
But league President Ann Bryant said she had an agreement with fish and game officials that the mother bear would not be killed until they could confirm it was the right suspect. Also, she said, efforts were to be made to try to ''rehabilitate'' the two cubs.
Bryant and others were angered when the male bear was trapped and destroyed without them being notified.
''My trust level has plummeted,'' she said.
Permits that allow the trapping and killing of bears, called depredation permits, are issued to homeowners who request them after wildlife officials confirm bear-caused property damage has occurred or human safety is at risk.
''I try to work with everybody,'' Stevenson said. ''We're not out to kill all the bears.
''But if a bear breaks into a house and the homeowner requests a depredation permit, I have to issue it.''
Stevenson and Fish and Game Capt. Mike Herlache said two separate permits have been issued for the sow, which remains at large with the cubs. Only one, at the request of the homeowner, contains a provision that Bryant and the Bear League be notified if its trapped.
They said the bear population in the Sierra is healthy and more human-bear conflicts are inevitable as people encroach on wildlife habitat.
But quelling friction between residents who complain about problem bears and those who see them as cute, harmless critters may be even harder.
''People who are afraid to talk to me'' out of fear they will be threatened or harassed by neighbors, Stevenson said.
''It's understandable how people get attached to them,'' Herlache said of the bruins. ''They're not only cute when they're small, they're cute when they're big.''
But when bears learn to break into homes in search of food, they become a problem, he said.
''They're essentially big eating machines, a stomach with a good nose attached to it,'' Herlache said. ''There's a lot of people who really fear these animals because they're big and they're predators.
''This is a problem that isn't going to go away.''