Wildfires and bears get attention from state | NevadaAppeal.com
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Wildfires and bears get attention from state

Wildland fires and bears – especially at Lake Tahoe – were the focus at Tuesday’s Board of Examiners meeting.

The board, consisting of Gov. Jim Gibbons, Attorney General Katherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller, approved a $3.3 million transfer from the state’s contingency fund to cover the anticipated cost of fighting fires from June through October.

In addition, the board approved $40,315 from the contingency fund to give the Department of Wildlife two more workers to handle the numerous bear complaints this year.

The state has already paid out more than $487,000 to cover costs of fire suppression in what State Forester Pete Anderson described as “another disastrous fire year.” He said more than 870,000 acres of Nevada has already burned.

Anderson also said the season is far from over and Nevada is now in the period of late summer when thunder and lightning take over as major causes of fires.

“We’ve got our fingers crossed and we’re hoping we can get through the lightning period,” he said.

In addition, the board approved $200,000 in bond money for the division to pay hand crews to do reforestation and fuels reduction in the Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park. That will include cutting live and dead trees as well as removing and burning brush.

Ken Mayer, of the Department of Wildlife, said there were 400 phone calls about bears in July alone, many of them in the Tahoe Basin, and he doubts there will be any fewer in August. He said the lack of forage caused by the drought is bringing not only the bears which live near people and parks, but wildland bears, into contact with people.

Game Manager James Mason said the long-term solution is to educate people along the Sierra Nevada and as far east as Hawthorne to not leave garbage and other food where the bears can get to it.

Asked by Gibbons if people in the Tahoe Basin were cooperating, Mason said the permanent residents “tend to follow the rules.”

“Those who vacation at Tahoe tend not to,” he said. “We have people who open dumpsters so they can photograph bears climbing into the dumpsters.”

Mayer said the Tahoe bears in particular are much larger than typical 400-pound wildland bears, running upwards of 650 pounds. He described them as “grizzly-sized black bears” and said any encounter with one could be deadly. When faced with aggressive bears, he said the department policy is to kill them, although he added that draws complaints from people who oppose any killing of the animals.

He said the bear population is growing rapidly, further increasing the number of contacts with people.

“We need to develop a bear program that runs the gamut from nuisance to depredation and a hunting program.”

Mayer said the department needs to work with local officials to implement the program.

The board also approved $100,400 to support NDOW’s efforts to restore sagebrush habitat in Humboldt and Elko counties as part of the state’s Sage Grouse Preservation Program. Nevada, along with several other western states, created an extensive program in an effort to keep the Sage Grouse off the threatened or endangered list. The program would impose tough restrictions on the use of large areas of Nevada by sportsmen, hikers and others who enjoy the wild.

Mayer said those projects are very expensive, but that the state is getting some help from private industry.

“Our main partner has been the mining companies, Newmont in particular,” he said.

That $100,000 appropriation is half the total lawmakers set aside for restoration of Sage Grouse habitat and only a tiny portion of what Mayer said would be needed to restore the more than two million acres of habitat in those counties that has burned since 1999.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.