Uninvited guests look for snacks | NevadaAppeal.com

Uninvited guests look for snacks

by F.T. Norton
Courtesy Patrick Kennedy

A racket that startled the Taorminas awake in their Virginia City Highlands home just after midnight Wednesday morning “sounded like the house was coming down,” said Tom Taormina.

The couple sprang from their bed. Midge ran upstairs to grab the rifle and Tom raced into the kitchen, switching on the light. Just inches from where he stood was the window, left open a crack to let in the night air, with its screen and drapes missing.

Tom stood there staring out into the blackness when something very strange happened.

“A paw came reaching inside trying to swipe at me,” said Tom. “Then I see a bear occupying the entire front window.”

He said he a did a “little backwards dance,” then rushed forward screaming and banging on the glass.

It must have frightened the large black bear, he said, because as quickly as the two came face to face through the thin glass, the animal disappeared into the night.

During June, Storey County Sheriff’s deputies have been called out to the VC Highlands on 10 bear reports, including an incident June 17 when a man on Castle Rock fired a bullet into the ground to scare a bear away from his trash, said Assistant Sheriff Gerald Antinoro.

Tom Taormina said he’s lived in the highlands 14 years and has always been careful about leaving anything out on his property that would entice wild animals. He believes the increase in bear sightings directly correlates with the number of city-dwellers who’ve recently moved to the area.

“Just droves of people moved here and tried to turn the wild west into suburbia. They put the food trash out in their trashcans so that the last two summers we’ve had bears. People need to get a trash compactor, or lock it in your garage, don’t put it outside,” said Tom. “We live in the wild west and we embrace that. We don’t live here because it’s a subdivision.”

Carl Lackey, a biologist and bear expert with the Nevada Division of Wildlife, said Tom’s theory is exactly right.

“I can tell you that 99 percent of what we are hearing is trash related issues. Bears getting into trash or pet food that’s being left outside, then the residents are wanting us to come up and remove the bears because of it,” he said. “In an area like that where it’s natural bear habitat, we cannot do that.”

Lackey said even if NDOW comes out for a bear call, the animal isn’t removed from the range. It is tagged and then released into the area with diversion therapy – his Karelian bear dogs chase it, and he shoots it with rubber bullets.

“Nine times out of 10 we do on-site releases,” he said. “So if there is trash, there is food available and the problem won’t go away. If a bear comes into a certain area and gets food just that one time, it encourages the bear to come back.

“And it will come back.”

Lackey said funding cuts have also affected his ability to respond to calls in which bears haven’t shown any aggression.

“Normally I would come up with a bear trap, l trap the bear and do the on-site release and try to educate the bear and educate the people. Now the only time I’m setting a trap is for public safety situations where the bear has gotten to the point of breaking into homes or breaking into cars.

“At that point I have to kill the bear. The lack of nuisance funding forces the people to take some responsibility, but it has also resulted in more bears being killed,” he said.

Tom Taormina said that despite his best efforts, if his neighbors don’t get on board with the program, there will be continued problems with black bears, like the one drawn to his home by the smell of fruit on his kitchen table.

So now, in addition to compacting all his trash and keeping it secured until trash pickup day, Tom jokingly noted he’s added another item to his bears “don’t” list.

“We won’t bring home pineapples anymore, I know that,” he said.