INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — A new group could soon be in the business of reducing conflicts between people and bears at Lake Tahoe.
Ron Stiller, founder of Bear Smart Tahoe, plans to launch his private operation in March in hopes of bringing a little sanity to an issue that has increasingly divided residents of his community.
“It’s a complex situation that calls for a complex but flexible answer,” Stiller told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
“I’m going to attack this like a business,” he said.
A business consultant, Stiller and his family moved to Incline Village from Pennsylvania a year ago. It took little time for them to realize they were living in a particularly bear-prone spot, as evidenced by a photograph of a family of black bears hanging out beside their back porch that is hung on the kitchen wall.
During summer, Stiller said, “there’s not a day where’s there’s not two or three of them going through here.”
“We call it our ‘bear-quarium,’ “ Stiller said of the action so readily and frequently visible outside his window.
He soon became aware of the passion and controversy surrounding bear management at Tahoe, particularly in Incline Village, where bear-protection advocates have become increasingly aggressive in pushing an agenda criticizing the Nevada Department of Wildlife for killing too many bears.
When officials set traps for problem-causing bears, activists alerted on the Internet held around-the-clock vigils to keep the animals away. Some traps have been tampered with. After one particularly tense scene last summer when Stiller witnessed an estimated 50 people congregated around a trapped bear at Incline, he said he realized the situation has become unacceptable.
“That kind of stuff has got to stop. One of the goals is to bring back some harmony,” Stiller said.
Bear Smart Tahoe will be loosely based on a program originating in Whistler, British Columbia, he said. There, the Get Bear Smart Society has worked for a decade to reduce conflicts between humans and black bears.
An offshoot program exists in Durango, Colo., where director Bryan Peterson reports significant success in reducing bear conflicts in some areas, particularly through tightened control of garbage.
Stiller plans to run his business as a limited liability corporation. Money will be raised to run the group in part by providing consulting services to area businesses and using some of the fees charged, he said.
Public education will be a priority, and Stiller’s wife, Nancy, a retired teacher, plans to appear before area schoolchildren.
They also hope to arrange for a locally based first-responder to deal with bear problems to lessen the strain on state game wardens and biologists now often required to deal with emergencies in Tahoe. He hopes to provide money to conduct research and improve “aversion” techniques to help condition bears to stay away from people.
State bear biologist Carl Lackey said he is “all for it.”
“It’s a great grassroots movement,” he said. “We can tell people things a hundred times over, and a lot of times the advice is ignored. When it’s their own neighbors telling them the same thing, it tends to sink in a little bit better.”
Ann Bryant, founder of the BEAR League, a nonprofit organization formed at Tahoe in 1998 to reduce human-bear conflicts, said she’s still waiting to learn more details concerning plans for Bear Smart Tahoe. In general, Bryant said, she supports the idea.
“Anything that brings education in and makes people aware of how to live in bear country is a good thing,” Bryant said.