RENO - State wildlife commissioners, convinced that hunting is needed to help keep Nevada's black bear population in check, voted unanimously Saturday to make permanent the state's bear hunting season despite critics who say the animals need federal protection.
The vote established the season as Aug. 20 through Dec. 31 every year. The commission will review the season annually and could alter the number of bears that can be shot in a given year; the current limit is 20 bears, only six of which can be females.
"It could go down, it could go up in the future," said Chris Healy, spokesman for the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
About two dozen people turned out to speak about the hunt, with an even split in opinion.
Two advocacy groups launched an effort last week to try to win the bears protection under the Endangered Species Act. Big Wildlife and NoBearHuntNV.org filed the petition with the U.S. Interior Department to list the bears as a "distinct population."
State wildlife biologists estimated 200 to 300 adult black bears roam in the Carson Range around Lake Tahoe, with more in ranges to the south and east.
Commission Chairman Mike McBeath said he agreed with the scientists' conclusion that Nevada's bear population is growing at a rate of about 16 percent annually and can support a limited hunt.
"The duty of the wildlife commission is to preserve, protect manage and restore wildlife populations," McBeath said. "Hunting is a valuable tool in the management of game animals."
The state authorized 45 tags for the inaugural season and 41 hunters showed up to claim them, he said. That means 33 still have a shot at bagging a bear before the end of the year.
"The success rate is kind of surprisingly high this early in the hunt," Healy said.
Eight have been taken so far this year, including three females, Healy said. Only one - weighing about 700 pounds - has been shot near Lake Tahoe, in the Kingsbury Grade area above Stateline, he said.
One was taken in the Carson Range near Verdi west of Reno, and the others were shot east of U.S. Highway 395. That included four in the Pine Nut range east of Gardnerville, one in the Pine Grove range south of Gardnerville and one in the Sweet Water range south and east of Smith Valley, Healy said.
Healy said no bear has been taken since Sept. 18 amid unusually warm weather in northern Nevada.
"A lot of the hunters seem to be waiting for cooler weather because of the psychological change and it creates a better hide for the bears," he said.