Battle over Nevada bear hunt heading to court
RENO – Conservationists’ bid to block what could become the first legal bear hunt in Nevada history is headed to court after state wildlife commissioners rejected a petition on Thursday to postpone the season that’s scheduled to start Aug. 20 in the mountains around Lake Tahoe.
On a 7-1 vote, the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners refused to formally consider the petition from NoBearHuntNV.org, a non-profit group that claims the hunt is illegal because of faulty environmental and economic reviews as well as a public notice violation.
Christine Schwamberger, a Carson City lawyer who helped form the group, told the commissioners it would save the state money in the long run if they abandon the temporary regulation adopted in December and begin work on a permanent one for 2012 that would be “less vulnerable” to legal challenges.
“It would only delay the hunt a year,” she said. “The bears will still be there.”
Commissioner Michael McBeath of Las Vegas cast the lone dissenting vote after senior deputy attorney general Bryan Stockton, the commission’s legal counsel, suggested the matter would best be handled in district court.
“That’s the review opinion that really counts,” Stockton said.
Schwamberger said after the vote that she’ll file suit against the state in Carson City District Court “as soon as possible” next week.
“We’ll try to get a restraining order against the hunt,” she said. “Whatever decision they made today we were still planning to go to district court.”
The hunting season is to run from Aug. 20 to Dec. 31 or until the harvest objective is met. The state will issue 45 tags but is limiting the number of bears that can be taken to a total of 20, only six of which can be females.
State wildlife biologists estimate there are an estimated 200 to 300 adult black bears in the Carson Range around Lake Tahoe, with additional bears in ranges to the south. They said Nevada’s bear population is growing at a rate of about 16 percent annually.
Commission Chairman Scott Raine of Eureka didn’t comment on the merits of the hunt during Thursday’s meeting in Reno. But he has said in the past the hunt is “clearly justified on the biological end of it.”
Schwamberger said the commission violated the state’s public notice laws because notice of the scheduled vote on the regulation did not provide an explanation of the reason why they hunting season is needed. She maintains state law requires there be a management based-reason – such as overpopulation – to open a new hunting season.
“Bears have been protected in Nevada since 1929,” she told the panel. “This would be the first legal bear hunt in Nevada history. It makes sense that the public would ask you, ‘Why are you implementing this hunt?”‘
McBeath supports the hunt but preferred to let Schwamberger make a complete presentation before the commission voted against formally entertaining the petition based on their belief the regulation approved in December is valid.
“If there is a problem with regard to noticing… we ought to at least know it,” he said.
Commissioner Tom Cavin of Carson City said he still has some procedural questions about the hunting regulation “but I don’t think we can answer those today.”
“I’m perfectly comfortable letting that happen at the next level, not here,” he said.