RENO — Despite strong opposition from wildlife advocates, a state panel on Saturday unanimously voted to establish Nevada’s first bear hunting season. Before their 8-0 vote, state wildlife commissioners said the state’s black bear population can support a hunt and hunting might reduce human-bear conflicts in the Reno-Lake Tahoe area by giving the bruins a fear of people.
“I’m doing this for the bears,” said panel Vice Chairman Gerald Lent of Reno. “It is better to have them hunted than killed by cars. Gunshots scare bears. Maybe a hunt will take care of some of our problems.”
The action came after commissioners heard impassioned pleas by bear advocates against the hunt. They said Nevada has too few bears to sustain a hunt and hunting would have no impact on human-bear conflicts. Beverlee McGrath, Nevada state director of the Humane Society of the United States, criticized commissioners’ vote, saying they had their minds made up before hearing from the public.
“It was just sort of depressing and frustrating for those who showed up and gave wonderful arguments against it,” she said Saturday. “There’s no scientific study that was documented as far as the bear population and how they arrived at that.”
Nevada is home to an estimated 200 to 300 bears along the eastern Sierra, mostly in the Carson Range around Lake Tahoe, according to the Nevada Department of Wildlife. An unknown number of bears inhabit the Wassuk and Sweetwater ranges to the south. A limited hunt can be supported because the state’s bear population is increasing by about 16 percent a year, said Carl Lackey, a biologist for NDOW. Initial proposals called for seasonal hunting of about 20 bears. Commissioners are scheduled to work out details about seasons and quotas next year. Some commissioners said they oppose a spring hunt because of concerns raised by advocates that the killing of mother bears would leave cubs as orphans.
At public hearings Friday and Saturday, 42 people spoke out against the hunt and 20 voiced support for it, said NDOW spokesman Chris Healy. Ann Bryant, president of the Lake Tahoe-based BEAR League, said hunting would drive bears from the wild into neighborhoods and cause more conflicts. Mandatory bear-proof trash containers would do more to reduce conflicts.
“These animals weren’t born for you to kill,” she told the panel. “This hunt is for a special, tiny minority and won’t solve the bear problem. This is about money and trophy hunting.”
Other opponents said hunters could endanger outdoor enthusiasts at Tahoe. But Gil Yanuck of Carson City said he and other hunters have been going after deer in the same areas around Tahoe for years and there have been no conflicts.
“A lot of hunters have asked for a bear hunt,” he said. “The bear population is growing and why not have a small hunt? This small number of bears we’re talking about won’t decimate our bear population.” Other supporters noted that Nevada is the only Western state that prohibits bear hunting, and hunting could raise needed revenue.