Sierra Nevada Forum tackles animal issues in Carson City
Always walk your dog on a leash, fight back in the event of a black bear attack, and back away slowly from mountain lions.
That was a few of the tips offered during a discussion of local wildlife at Sierra Nevada Forum’s January event Tuesday.
Western Nevada Wildlife Through the Seasons attracted nearly 200 people to the Brewery Arts Center’s Performance Hall.
Moderated by Lindsay Chichester, extension educator, Cooperative Extension, University of Nevada, Reno, the event featured Jessica Heitt and Tricia Dutcher, wildlife educators with the Nevada Department of Wildlife, who talked about deer, bear, mountain lion, raptors, coyotes, and other wildlife that can be found in the area.
“If there is one thing I want you to take away from tonight it is to please walk your dog on a leash,” said Heitt.
Heitt said it’s a myth that coyotes lure dogs to kill them, but when a dog chases a coyote they may end up crossing into the coyote’s territory where its pack is ready and waiting to defend.
Mother deer, too, protecting their newborn fawns could mistake a domestic dog for a coyote, the deer’s natural enemy, and take action.
Heitt said all deer here are mule deer, named for their large ears. They migrate to lower elevations in the winter, looking for sagebrush and bitterbrush.
That’s also mating season when testosterone levels jump in male deer, who can grow as big as 400 pounds.
“Their necks swell to twice their size,” in order to better fight other deer, said Heitt. “And they can become aggressive to humans, too.”
Deer give birth in the early summer and fawns can be up and walking 30 minutes after being born. The fawns are scentless so are not easily discovered by predators. Their mothers will often leave them for hours hidden in some grass or shrubbery as they go off to forage.
“Most of the calls we get are about abandoned fawns,” who are fine left on their own, said Heitt. “It is best to leave them be.”
Less seen then the ubiquitous deer is the mountain lion.
“Ninety percent of sightings are other animals,” said Heitt. “They are massive animals, up to 8 feet long and 220 pounds.”
Heitt said the odds are greater to be hit by lightning than attacked by a mountain lion, but that if you do encounter one, back away slowly.
Nevada has between 400-700 bears, all of them black bears despite their coat color variety. Black bears should be fought if encountered, unlike grizzly and brown bears, which you should play dead if you encounter, said Heitt.
Bears can smell food up to 10 miles away.
“I highly recommend that everyone in Carson City invest in a bear-proof garbage can,” Heitt said.
Bears hibernate depending on food. If food is available throughout the winter then there’s no need for them to hibernate, she said.
The same is true of bats, said Dutcher. Nevada’s bat population is made up of micro bats, whose body is as big as a human palm.
“They are not mice with wings,” said Ducther. “They are long lived, living about 20 to 40 years in the wild. Most have one offspring a year. They are small mammals that fly. They have a very rich social life.”
Also, only half a percent of bats carry rabies, she said.
“Don’t touch a bat if you see it on the ground,” she said.
Nevada also has aquatic mammals in its waterways, including muskrat and beavers, both herbivores, and mink and otter, both carnivores.
Muskrats are small, averaging 2 feet in length and weighing 2 pounds, and people often mistake them for baby beavers, which when full grown can weigh as much 100 pounds and be 4 feet long. Nevada has about 70,000 beavers.
Otters can grow to 30 pounds and have been sighted, albeit rarely, on the Truckee River.
Mink are smaller but are the more aggressive predator.
“They’re adorable killers,” said Dutcher.