Commentary: Your voice is needed to stop bear hunt

I am not against hunting. I grew up in hunting communities and have many friends and acquaintances whom I admire and respect who are hunters. My concern is the black bear hunt, which was unanimously approved by the Nevada Department of Wildlife board of commissioners and which is set to commence Aug. 20.

Thousands of people are involved in an organized effort to stop this hunt. Several members of No Bear Hunt NV and BEAR League organizations attended the board meetings in December and February, as did members of various communities, and spoke out eloquently, intelligently and passionately against this hunt.

I can see that the commissioners have a difficult job and, as is typical of any public position, they are not going to please all the people all the time. I have respect for the chairman, who conducted the meeting efficiently and decorously, and for some of the board members who made valuable contributions.

Carl Lackey, NDOW wildlife biologist, presented his report on the bear population in Nevada, and it was concluded that the estimated population of 200-300 bears can sustain a limited hunt - specifically, 45 tags have been awarded, with an expected success rate of 20, including a maximum of six females.

Several of the people who spoke wanted to know how the idea for this hunt originated and what is the motivation - to control the bear population? To protect the people? For money? For sport? One of the commissioners was widely quoted as proclaiming, "... Because we can!" Taken out of context, that comment sounds arrogant and dismissive, but everything he said, taken as a whole, made sense. This particular commissioner, I feel really had the clearest understanding of the situation. I understand his position and for the most part, I agree. He meant, in part, that research indicates the population can sustain a limited hunt, therefore the hunters should have this opportunity to hunt bear for the first time in Nevada since 1929.

The hunt originated because a group of hunters approached the commission and requested one. The commissioners said at the meetings that it was not about money or population control or safety, and that the hunt will not solve the "nuisance" bear problem. Nor, they said, would it curtail bear-human encounters. The single purpose of this hunt is to provide a small group of hunters the chance to shoot a bear. As one succinct hunter from Las Vegas put it, "...I'd love to come up there and whack a bear!" Applause. Excuse me while I thump my chest and tell everyone what a MAN I am ...

Though I agree that our bear population, as small as it is, could probably sustain a limited hunt, there are several things about which we should be very concerned. First of all, this commission, appointed by the governor, approved this hunt despite overwhelming opposition. has initiated a signature drive protesting the hunt. To date, 10,000 signatures have been collected, and the campaign continues. The tireless and cheerful signature collectors indicate that the vast majority of the people approached oppose the hunt. Furthermore, 98 percent of the 3,000 people who wrote to NDOW regarding this matter oppose the hunt. It's almost inconceivable that the commission passed this, isn't it?

Last year, 19,244 hunting licenses were issued to Nevada residents. If we look at that as a percentage of Nevada's population (2.7 million), that is less than 1 percent. Fewer than 1,200 people applied for a bear tag. This hunt, unanimously approved by our wildlife commission board members, is to satisfy less than 1 percent of our population. Does anyone smell a rat?

I'm not trying to imply that less than 1 percent of our population are hunters or that 99 percent of the population opposes the hunt. This figure simply represents the percentage of the population that held a Nevada hunting license in 2010.

Every state in the West has a black bear hunt, including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, California, Arizona and New Mexico. Nevada has the smallest population of black bear. Biologist Lackey estimates there are 200-300, which he admits is a conservative estimate. Utah estimates its bear population to be about 1,500; New Mexico, 6,000. The population in some of the other states numbers in the tens of thousands. Given that every neighboring state holds a black bear hunt, there is ample opportunity for hunters so inclined to shoot a bear to do so - somewhere else.

I don't believe that there are going to be crazed, glazed, slobbering hunters running around with guns. Hunters are very serious about their craft and they know their way around weapons. Yes, there are hunting accidents. Mix guns and people and things happen. The same could be said for cars and people and I don't think the risk is excessive. However, this hunt is allowing hunting with bows, which I think does create risk. It takes tremendous skill to kill a bear with a single shot, even with a rifle. At the meeting, even hunters were recommending rifle only, for at least the first hunt.

The use of hounds is to be allowed. A frightened bear gets chased up a tree and is held there until the hunter comes along and shoots it. The use of dogs in a hunt results in the highest success rate, followed by baiting (not allowed in Nevada), and lastly, stalking. Ax the dog clause. It's inhumane and indecent and gives the "sportsman" an unfair advantage.

Black bears can live more than 20 years. Females produce their first litter at age 3-5. The cubs are born in late January or early February. They remain with their mother until they are 16-18 months old and den with her in their second winter.

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible to tell males from females in a hunting situation. When this hunt begins, cubs will be 7 or 8 months old - at least 9 months from being independent. What will happen to the cub if his mother is shot? Please, hunters, visit this website: Scroll down and view the video of a sow and her cub. There is obviously an affectionate bond between mother and cub, and I really can't understand how someone would want to destroy that. Search your souls and get in touch with your feminine side! Men are supposed to want to protect females and their offspring, right?

People of Nevada, we need your help. I have spent hours pouring over the videos of the meetings to glean the facts presented here. If you are opposed to this hunt, your voice is needed. You can learn about and participate in the signature drive at Download a petition, sign it and send it in. Better yet, collect signatures from others and send those in as well. Let's be the only Western state that lives in harmony with its bears. We can't let a small group of people tell us how to treat our wildlife. The people have spoken and we say no.

• Toree Warfield lives in Incline Village


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