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Bears, birds, lawsuit … oh my

Gregory Crofton

A dispute between neighbors on Kingsbury Grade has it all: Bears, flying squirrels, birds and a small-claims lawsuit.

Jerry Hall says that for years, his neighbor has food out to attract bears and other wildlife. The neighbor, Anthony Citko, denies the allegation. He says he has no desire to attract dangerous wildlife to his home, which, like many places at Tahoe, has a growing problem with bears and coyotes.

Actually, it was Hall’s construction equipment and plowing, Citko said, that has damaged his property and quality of life at the end of their cul-de-sac on Glen Court.

Citko doesn’t deny that he has put out a tub of bird seed on the ground so wildlife can get at it. And he says he feeds birds and flying squirrels by leaving seed on a cookie sheet high on a tree branch.

But Hall claims Citko leaves out more than bird seed.

“He says it’s a natural path for bears, well, it’s a natural path to get to his house for a five-star brunch,” Hall said. “It wasn’t bird feed. It was potato chips, apples and walnuts.”

In November, Citko sued Hall for damaging his lawn with a plow blade, his wife’s new car with a sandblaster, and his carpet with oil that had spilled in the street. Hall filed a countersuit, alleging Citko knowingly fed bears, which resulted in damage to his pickup.

Tahoe Township Justice Court Judge Richard Glasson, also a resident of Kingsbury Grade, ruled last week that Citko is at fault.

Glasson ordered Citko to pay $2,290.78, plus the cost of the lawsuit, for damage a bear did to Hall’s Dodge on Halloween night. Citko is considering whether to appeal.

“I feel the judge’s mind was made up right from the beginning,” Citko said. “The whole decision stinks. But I don’t know whether it’s worth the time or the effort (to appeal it).”

In his ruling, Glasson states that Citko “Attracts wild animal, including bears, to the Glen Court area by feeding them.”

A footnote backing the statement states, “Plaintiff claims to like all animals in the area, except coyotes, which plaintiff claims eats his cats. Plaintiff may unintentionally contribute to the attraction of coyotes to his neighborhood by feeding wild animals upon which coyotes might prey.”

People do deliberately feed bears. Often it is a visitor who puts out the food, which is an illegal act in California, but no law prohibits the act in Nevada.

“It’s a big problem,” said Carl Lackey, a wildlife biologist who deals with bear problems at Tahoe for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. “People feed bears, and the neighbors pay the consequence.”

Glasson found Citko negligent for failing to take ordinary care of his property. The judge wrote, “One who feeds animals must do so in a fashion that will not attract dangerous wild animals to his neighborhood. Plaintiff’s actions are more than negligent, they are intentional.

“Douglas County has adopted a public policy that provides that it is unlawful for one to merely negligently allow bears access to residentially stored foodstuffs. Plaintiff’s negligent and intentional actions in feeding bears violate the declared public policy of this county.”

Contact Gregory Crofton at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com or (530) 542-8045.