Proposed bear hunt polarizes community | NevadaAppeal.com

Proposed bear hunt polarizes community

Matthew Renda
Nevada Appeal News Service

INCLINE VILLAGE – As a hearing nears regarding a proposal to legalize the hunting of black bears for the first time in Nevada’s nearly 150-year history, some regional wildlife advocates are gathering petitions and urging state officials to reject the idea.

The Nevada Wildlife Commission – composed of representatives throughout the state that governs the Nevada Department of Wildlife – meets next weekend in Reno. The black bear hearing is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 4.

Nevada is home to an estimated 200 to 300 bears along the eastern Sierra, according to NDOW, with most in the Carson Range on Lake Tahoe’s East Shore. There also are an unknown number of bears in the Wassuk and Sweetwater ranges to the south.

The particulars of the hunt, including a tag quota and length of season, will not be decided during the December meeting should the hunt be approved, according to the commission, but would be settled in the spring of 2011.

Carl Lackey, a biologist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife who has worked for years with the state’s black bear population, specifically at Lake Tahoe, said the initial recommendation for a tag quota was 20 bears per season.

“The bear population in Nevada could easily withstand a limited hunt,” he said.

Lackey said the black bear is the most successful species of bear in the world, with an estimated 900,000 in North America alone. The Sierra Nevada supports a population of 10,000-15,000 bears.

“It is an extremely healthy population,” he said.

While Lackey said he was not responsible for recommending the hunt be approved – it was initiated by the wildlife commission – his viewpoint as a biologist states the bear population will continue to be stable and even grow if a limited hunt is permitted by the state.

“All the other Western states allow black bear hunting, including California,” he said. “In Nevada, we hunt every single big-game species with the exception of the bear. The only thing that is shocking is why Nevada has not allowed a bear hunt up to now.”

Public outrage

Nevertheless, the possibility of a legalized hunt has stoked outrage throughout the Tahoe community, particularly on the Nevada side of the lake.

Incline resident Mary Ansari expressed concerns that hunting in the Carson Range – a popular recreation destination – could present unnecessary dangers to bystanders.

“Does it make sense to have a bear hunt in a mountain range that is so heavily used by recreationists and so close to urban areas?” asked Ansari, who added Lake Tahoe residents are not properly represented on the wildlife panel.

The nine-member wildlife commission features three members from Las Vegas, two from Reno, one from Carson City, and one each from Eureka, Ely and Dyer.

“I’m wondering how much input they have from those of us living with the bears at Lake Tahoe,” Ansari said.

Kathryn Bricker, a Zephyr Cove resident who has collected more than 500 signatures on a petition opposing the bear hunt, said the commission has “an imbalance of voices.”

“The nine-member wildlife commission is (composed) of five sportsmen, two rancher/farmers, one citizen at large and one conservationist,” she said. “It is no wonder the commission demonstrates such a narrow (viewpoint).”

Bricker said many living in Tahoe have formed a deep emotional affinity with the animals.

“As the wild mustangs are to many and … gorillas were to Diane Fossey, the Nevada black bears are to many of us who reside in bear habitat – intelligent, awe-inspiring creatures that we consider a part of our extended family,” she said. “We learn from them and love them and we want to see them treated kindly.”

Lackey, Bricker and Ansari all agreed on one point – a bear hunt will not help reduce the number of bear/human interactions.

Lackey said if a hunter kills a bear in the backcountry, it would be pure luck if the bear happened to be a nuisance bear accustomed to looking for meals in urban areas.

“The only thing that will stop bears from breaking into houses is individuals who reside in bear habitat taking responsibility for securing their trash and reducing bear attractants,” Lackey said.

If the bear hunt is approved, Lackey said there are already ordinances dictating where hunters can pursue big game such as mountain lions and mule deer; therefore, new legislation or ordinances will not be necessary.

“There is a big misconception that hunting is not allowed in the Lake Tahoe Basin,” Lackey said. “Hunters are currently allowed to hunt big game in certain areas, so it already regulated. To my knowledge, there has never been an incident.”