By Matthew Renda
LAKE TAHOE — Some regional wildlife advocates are gathering petitions and urging state officials to reject the legalizing of black bear hunting for the first time in Nevada’s nearly 150-year history.
The Nevada Wildlife Commission — composed of representatives from throughout the state and governing the Nevada Department of Wildlife — meets Dec. 3-4 in Reno. A hearing to consider legalizing black bear hunting is scheduled for Dec. 4.
Nevada is home to 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.
If the hunt is approved, specifics like a tag quota and length of season will be settled in the spring of 2011, according to the commission.
The initial recommendation for a tag quota was 20 bears per season, said 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.
“The bear population in Nevada could easily withstand a limited hunt,” he said.
However, bears do not recognize borders, Lackey said, and overall the Sierra Nevada hosts a population of 10,000 to 15,000 bears.
“There’s no large fence separating California from Nevada, and bears are accustomed to moving back and forth,” he said.
The black bear is the most successful species of bear in the world, with an estimated population of 900,000 in North America alone, Lackey said.
“It is an extremely healthy population,” he said.
The bear population will continue to be stable and even grow if a limited hunt is permitted by the state, Lackey said. Lackey said he was not responsible for recommending the hunt.
“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.”
The black bear hunt proposal contains the following provisions:
• It would be illegal to kill a black bear cub or a female bear accompanied by a cub.
• A hunter who kills a black bear is not eligible to apply for another black bear tag for the next five years.
• The fee for a resident tag is $100. The fee for a nonresident tag is $200.
• Hunters must report their kills within 72 hours.
• Using bait to lure bears will not be permitted.
• The limit on bears taken during a given season and the length of season will be decided by the commission at a later date.
The possibility of a legalized hunt has stoked outrage throughout the Tahoe community — particularly on the Nevada side of the lake.
Hunting in the Carson Range, a popular recreation destination, could present unnecessary dangers to bystanders, said Incline Village resident Mary Ansari.
“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?” Ansari asked.
She also questioned why 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.
Many people who live in Tahoe have formed a deep emotional affinity with the animals, said Kathryn Bricker, a Zephyr Cove resident who has collected more than 500 signatures on a petition opposing the bear hunt.
“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.
If a hunter kills a bear in the backcountry, it would be pure luck if that bear happened to be a nuisance bear accustomed to looking for meals in Tahoe’s urban interface, Lackey said.
“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.
Nevada already has rules for where hunters can pursue big game, such as mountain lions and mule deer, Lackey said. New legislation or ordinances will not be necessary, he added.
“There is a big misconception that hunting is not allowed in the Lake Tahoe Basin,” he said. “Hunters are currently allowed to hunt big game in certain areas, so it is already regulated. To my knowledge, there has never been an incident.”
The California side
Bear hunting is legal in California. The areas approved for hunting bears are subject to county ordinances. The season opens on the second Saturday in October and extends for 79 consecutive days, unless the California Department of Fish and Game determines 1,700 bears have been killed before the season concludes. Hunters are required to present the killed bear’s skull to fish and game officials within 10 days of taking the bruin.
Hunters are allowed one adult bear per season. Cubs and females accompanied by cubs may not be taken. Cubs are defined as bears less than one year of age or bears weighing less than 50 pounds.
No feed, bait or other materials capable of attracting a bear to a feeding area shall be placed or used for the purpose of taking or pursuing a bear. No person may take a bear within a 400-yard radius of a garbage dump or bait.
Source: California Department of Fish and Game