Nevada’s controversial bear hunt began its third season Sunday, and will continue into its fourth if the Nevada Department of Wildlife has its way.
The state’s bear population, which consists of anywhere between 400 and 700 bears, is more than enough to allow a limited hunt, spokesman Chris Healy said. For this reason, he said the department will likely recommend continuing the program when the Nevada Wildlife Commission reviews it in a few months.
“We’ve been told by the legislation and wildlife commission that after three years, we would look at the number and discuss what are we doing right, what are we doing wrong, where does the population stand,” he said.
In 2010, the Nevada Department of Wildlife estimated there were about 350 to 450 bears in the state, Healy said. But the department anticipates that number has grown significantly over the last three years.
The bear hunt is “tremendously beneficial” to the department because it helps track data, such as the animal’s population, Healy said.
But Kathryn Bricker, executive director of NoBearHuntNV, disagrees.
“We’ve had various internationally recognized ecologists and biologists review the data and they all said that hunting is not a necessary management tool,” Bricker said. “They hunt because they want to hunt, not because they want to manage the population.”
Healy, however, said hunting is a well-recognized tool of wildlife management.
“If we are going to stack up experts,” he said, “our experts will win that debate.”
Starting in 2011, bears in Nevada could be hunted in limited number. Fourteen were killed in 2011 and 11 were killed in 2012. No bears have been killed in 2013 so far, but the limit is 20.
Since its inception, the hunt has attracted criticism from several organizations defending the bears, which are primarily killed in an area southeast of Minden and Gardnerville.
No hunting is allowed on the Nevada side of the Tahoe Basin, following a decision in 2011 to appease critics.
But Bricker said it’s not enough.
“We’re all very glad that they made that exclusion,” she said. “However we feel the same about the bears in the Pine Nut (Mountains) and Sweet Water (Range).”
Bricker is concerned that the state’s bear population is much lower than the Department of Wildlife estimates, she said.
However, Healy said hunters aren’t the bears’ biggest threat.
“The most dangerous thing to a bear is not a hunter,” he said, “it’s a car.”
Cars have killed 158 bears in Nevada since 1997, according to data from the Nevada Department of Wildlife. About 80 were killed for public safety during the same period.
“Harvesting 25 bears in two years is by no means going to put the population in any kind of danger,” Healy said of the last two Nevada bear hunts.
The decision to either continue or discontinue a bear hunt in Nevada ultimately lies with the state’s wildlife commission. The Nevada Dept. of Wildlife will make a recommendation to the commission later this year or early next year, Healy said, but calling off a bear hunt at this point would take a “biological disaster.”
This year’s hunt will end Dec. 31.
In California, about 35,000 bears roam The Golden State, said Jason Holley, spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Of those, about 1,700 are killed from hunting each year.
California also allows bear hunting in many areas of the Tahoe Basin.