Increased nuisance bear calls eating up wildlife budget | NevadaAppeal.com

Increased nuisance bear calls eating up wildlife budget

Kevin MacMillan
Nevada Appeal News Service

Bear calls have taken a big bite out of the Nevada Department of Wildlife budget this summer, prompting officials to ask Washoe and Douglas counties for help.

The NDOW responded to 207 bear calls in Washoe and Douglas counties during July. In August, the number nearly doubled to 408 calls, according to a document NDOW Director Kenneth Mayer and Game Division Chief Russ Morris are presenting to the Washoe County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

In 2006, nuisance black bear management in Washoe and Douglas counties cost NDOW $111,577. In 2007, costs will increase about 50 percent to approximately $167,365.

These mounting numbers are prompting Morris and Mayer to request financial assistance, not to exceed $50,000, from Washoe County at the commissioners’ meeting at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the commission chambers, 1001 E. Ninth St. in Reno.

NDOW plans to approach Douglas County later this month, and possibly Carson City as well.

“Certainly these problems are not going to go away,” Morris said. “They’re only going to get worse as people continue to build into the bear habitat.”

With the drought causing streams to go dry in the backcountry, bears have been coming into neighborhoods in and out of the basin in record numbers. A bear in Incline Village and another in South Shore’s Christmas Valley were shot by sheriff’s deputies, with a third bear dying after a homeowner in Tahoe City shot it and it fell from a tree. As of Aug. 3, there had been at least 20 bears hit by vehicles on the North Shore.

The increased activity is forcing NDOW officials to spend nearly all its time on bear calls, which puts a strain on NDOW’s operating fund, Mason said. The fund is supposed to compensate one seasonal biologist – Carl Lackey – to work with all wildlife, not just bears.

But the increase in bears has made everything else basically obsolete, Mason said.

“(Lackey) should be looking at elk, bighorn sheep, mule deer, antelope. But instead, he spent 75 to 80 percent of his time in July – 100 percent in August – on bear calls,” Mason said. “We only have one biologist and only three bear traps. There’s been so many calls, but some of those calls are going unanswered because we just can’t get to them.”

Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons and the state legislature are considering augmenting the NDOW budget with approximately $40,000 of contingency funding to cover a seasonal biologist, seasonal dispatch employee, rental truck and the cost of a cellular telephone through November 2007, according to the document.

“It would allow us to do more bear work this year,” Mason said. “It would take a bit of a bite out of the $167,000.”

NDOW also is considering the feasibility of a limited hunt for the management of wild land bears, Mason said. According to the document, it will “reduce the number of bear incidents in drought years. However, hunting will have little or no effect on nuisance bear incidents in urban and suburban areas such as the Tahoe Basin where problem bears never leave the vicinity of available garbage. In these areas, bears have very high reproductive success and hunting is impractical.”

Mason said the hunts only would focus on wild land bears outside of the Tahoe Basin and have “absolutely nothing to do” with basin black bears.

Also, to contain future costs and reduce problems, NDOW is asking Douglas and Washoe counties to convene a work group to consider the possibility of county ordinances requiring bear proof containers for garbage, prohibiting the feeding of bears or other wildlife excepting song birds, and effective strategies for enforcement, the document reads.

While the document will be presented at Tuesday’s Washoe County meeting, Healy said NDOW is hoping to put the funding request on a future Douglas County meeting agenda.

“Last week we talked to Douglas County to be on a future agenda, probably in late September or early October,” Healy said. “It’s the two places where the problem is most prevalent.”

Mason said it is possible NDOW also will approach Carson County in the future.

District One Washoe County Commissioner Jim Galloway, who represents Incline Village/Crystal Bay, said he is looking forward to the agenda item at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I think it would be a good investment, provided the other counties do it,” he said. “I don’t want to put (Washoe County) out there as the only one.”

Regardless of the outcome, Galloway said he hopes Incline and Crystal Bay residents attend Tuesday’s meeting in support of the agenda item.

“Right now I’m leaning toward it, but I’d like to see some Tahoe and Incline people come,” he said. “I think it’s important to get Incline people out here to counter what people from down there would say against it. They need to say ‘we pay taxes here too.'”