LAKE TAHOE - About 50 Native Americans gathered in Carson City on Monday to support a bill that would prohibit bear hunting, a move Lake Tahoe Basin wildlife advocates said they back but did not initiate.
"We think it's high time. We're very pleased the Native Americans have taken this up. We support it, but you don't tell the American Indians what to do. To them, the bear is a sacred animal," Executive Director of California's BEAR League Ann Bryant said.
Nevada's Senate Bill 82, which was referred to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources earlier this month, would designate black bears as protected mammals and prohibit the Board of Wildlife Commissioners from authorizing the bear hunt. There were no upcoming hearings scheduled for the bill as of Thursday.
Bryant fears that even if SB 82 reaches Brian Sandoval's desk, the governor will veto it. Bryant said groups like the BEAR League and the Humane Society of the United States were confident that California Gov. Jerry Brown would sign the 2012 bill that prohibited the use of hounds to hunt bears and bobcats. They were right - Brown signed SB 1221 into law last fall - but wildlife advocates are less assured of Sandoval's support.
Kathryn Bricker, executive director of No Bear Hunt NV, said that bear hunting in Nevada is not a viable way to manage the state's animals. Stating that the black bear population can sustain sport hunting isn't good science, she said.
"Bears are not a food source as some hunted animals are. To kill an animal for sport doesn't resonate well with the general public," Bricker said.
A 2011 Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc. survey reported that almost 60 percent of Nevadans disapproved of using hounds to hunt bear. But efforts to ban hounding of the animals stalled Feb. 1 when the Nevada Wildlife Commission rejected a petition to prohibit the practice.
Twenty-five bears have been killed since Nevada's first bear hunt in 2011, according to the Nevada Department of Wildlife. Since the law only allows for up to 30 out of Nevada's estimated 300 to 400 bears to be taken per season, the state doles out bear hunting licenses with a lottery system.
Bighorn Outfitting and Guiding Owner Wes Emery was one of 45 hunters who drew a tag for the Nevada's first bear hunt two years ago.
He ended up killing a 700-pound bear between Highway 50 and Kingsbury Grade in 2011, the only bruin he's taken to date. Emery, who grew up on Tahoe's North Shore, said he thinks hunting is a viable and necessary tool to manage the state's bear population.
"I think (bears) need to be managed like any other big game animal. As long as the hunt is controlled, I'm all for it," Emery said.
According to a 2011 NDOW report, urban areas in the Lake Tahoe Basin on the Nevada side had the second highest density of black bears in North America. Lake Tahoe was removed from the Nevada bear hunt last year by state wildlife commissioners to prevent conflicts between hunters and outdoor enthusiasts.
Whether the Nevada Wildlife Commission, which will set this year's big game quotas in May, removes the basin from the hunt in 2013 waits to be seen.
- The Associated Press contributed to this report.