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Bear still feasting on VC Highlands buffet

Karen Woodmansee
Appeal Staff Writer

At least one black bear is still making its rounds in the Virginia City Highlands.

Residents of six different streets in the Highlands have reported bear sightings, tracks or other evidence, such as ransacked garbage cans and barbecues knocked over for the past two weeks.

A bear has been seen on Morgan, Silverado, Saddleback, Tybo, Rocky Fandango Pass, Calaveras, Highland and Crestview roads since June, with the majority of sightings taking place in the last few weeks.

Chris Healy, public information officer for the Nevada Division of Wildlife, said that there could be more than one bear, but because the animal’s range seems to be limited to the Highlands, it was probably a single animal.

He said residents that are attracting wildlife by leaving their garbage out have an obligation to remove the attraction.

“We’ll do all we can to protect the safety of humans, but we believe it’s the responsibility of humans who live in this wild country not to put the garbage out,” he said. “We can’t tell bears ‘don’t go there because they’re making humans uncomfortable.’ People who don’t protect garbage aren’t protecting wildlife.”

Healy said the drought is causing bears to roam farther and faster looking for forage. In addition to the reports of bears trying to get into homes around Lake Tahoe, 20 bears have been killed by cars on roadways around the lake.

“We’ve had two dry winters in a row and it doesn’t take long for forage to become less available because of lack of moisture,” Healy said.

The Highlands bear, first spotted in early June, has been attacking garbage cans and knocking over barbecues in the rural development for the past two weeks, according to local residents.

The animal was spotted again Tuesday morning on Calaveras Road, and Storey County Undersheriff Bruce Larson called the Nevada Division of Wildlife to see if it could be trapped and relocated.

But Healy said there are no traps available.

“At the Tahoe Basin, we’ve had reports of bears breaking down doors to get to food,” he said, adding that NDOW only had three bear traps.

Healy said the division needs more traps, but put the onus on residents to stop attracting the animals by leaving garbage out.

“Once a bear eats garbage, he’ll remember that spot,” Healy said. “It might be 2 years, but he’ll remember.”

Residents should also not leave dog or cat food out and should avoid having bird feeders. Fruit trees could also attract the bears in the fall, he said.

Debbie Gravenstein, of the Highlands, said the bear has been around their Highland Road home for about two weeks.

“We didn’t actually see it, but we heard it. It just went kicking through the trees really fast,” she said.

“Every time he was here it was around 4 in the morning,’ she said. “It was playing in our pond one time.”

Gravenstein said she will only put her trash out the morning of collection from now on.

“I don’t have a garage to put my trash in,” she said.

Healy said every year the division receives complaints about bears. He warns that as fall approaches and the bear’s hunger increases, it could even come to Virginia City, where garbage from C Street businesses is left out overnight.

“It could come into town,” he said. “There’s no reason why they wouldn’t make a visit to a garbage can that is open and available. But that’s not likely as long as people in the Highlands are leaving garbage out for them.”

Healy said people need to be reminded that they do live with wild animals, even if the animals are rarely seen, and need to adjust their lives accordingly.

“Here’s the alternative: We don’t want to get to the point where a bear raiding a garbage can gets a death sentence,” he said. “But if people don’t help us out by protecting their garbage, we might get to that point. It would be unfair to the animal and unwise on the part of the humans.”