RENO - Critics of Nevada's first black bear hunt are worried that with hunters and hikers near Lake Tahoe sharing the same woods, it won't only be bears that get shot.
"Someone could be out hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail with their family and along comes a pack of dogs running across the trail, followed by a guy who comes along with a gun. It's a whole different atmosphere," said Madonna Dunbar, resource conservationist for the Incline Village General Improvement District on the lake's north shore.
"People are really concerned there will be an accident and someone will get killed," she said in an interview with The Associated Press.
State wildlife officials have issued 45 licenses and say hunters will be trained so they know where it is safe to shoot, but opponents worried for the safety of tourists and residents have taken their concerns to court.
NoBearHuntNV.org filed a lawsuit in Carson City District Court last week to try to block the bear hunting season scheduled to run Aug. 20-Dec. 31. Although 45 licenses were issued, the total harvest is limited to 20 bears, only six of which can be female. Hunters can use dogs, but are prohibited from using bait. It also is illegal to kill a sow accompanied by a cub or to kill a cub.
The lawsuit claims state wildlife commissioners adopted the hunt's regulations illegally because they failed to provide proper public notice or examine the potential negative impact on the local tourism-based economy. But it also raises concerns about safety in an area popular for downhill and cross-country skiing in the winter, and hiking and mountain biking most of the rest of the year.
Bryan L. Stockton, the senior deputy state attorney general representing the Nevada Department of Wildlife in the case, has declined to comment specifically on the lawsuit other than to say his office intends to "defend the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners against the claims made by No Bear Hunt."
Stockton noted that the Nevada Department of Wildlife requires hunters to receive training before they can try to bag a bear.
Department spokesman Chris Healy said the mandatory indoctrination is set for Aug. 6 for all bear tag holders who will be schooled by game wardens and wildlife biologists.
"It's a first time hunt so we are trying to make sure they understand where they can hunt and can't hunt, things like that," Healy said.
The state agency is working with Incline Village and other municipalities and counties to develop maps for hunters outlining legally established "congested areas" where firearm use is prohibited at all times, regardless of a hunting season.
At a minimum, those areas typically extend as far away from any building as it can be seen, but bigger buffers are in place in more populated areas - like most residential and recreational areas around Tahoe.
That's especially true at Incline Village, where officials are worried hunting could take place within a half-mile of some mountain homes and within a few thousand feet of the Diamond Peak ski resort.
"That's a big summer hiking area as well as winter skiing," Dunbar said. "Our recreationists are not used to dealing with a hunting season.
"I think NDOW is trying to do a good job educating hunters about where they can hunt or can't hunt. But it is one thing to look at a map. It's another thing to be in the field," she said.
The Washoe County sheriff's office is prepared to provide enforcement support if needed when the season opens but doesn't expect any trouble, Assistant Sheriff Marshall Emerson said.
Healy, of the wildlife department, said the bear hunt will use the same boundaries and general hunting laws that apply to deer, mountain lions and all other species. He said hunts have gone on for years for those other animals for years around Incline Village.
Dunbar acknowledged that is true.
"But hunting for bears is different from deer and mountain lions and grouse. Honestly, we don't see those other animals. We see bears all the time," she said.
"We live in Incline Village because we like living in the woods. We like seeing animals. People spend money to come here to see animals."