Nevada report tracks bear complaints in Lake Tahoe region
As Lake Tahoe bear activity escalates before winter hibernation, Nevada Department of Wildlife is tracking the data. Drought conditions and human error involving trash are said to directly impact growing bear issues. According to a 2014 report by Carl Lackey, the Nevada Department of Wildlife's chief biologist, 704 human-bear conflicts were reported in 2014, up from 498 in 2013. The report encompasses Western Nevada — including Washoe, Douglas, Carson counties and outlying regions. Chris Healy, the department's spokesperson, said bear calls in 2015 have spiked, and this wildlife bear activity is already expected to pass 2014. With bears entering into an autumn period of increased calorie consumption, those numbers will continue to grow. "If we surpass numbers in 2014, it's going to be one hell of a September," Healy said. Incline Village, on Lake Tahoe's North Shore, received 100 bear calls alone in 2014, which made up 15 percent of bear complaints last year. Another 14 percent of 2014's complaints came from Douglas County, including Stateline and Zephyr Cove on the South Shore. Human-generated trash is a central cause of bear issues in the Lake Tahoe Basin, officials said. Responsibility for trash removal and control falls to local governments and residents. "If you are going to live in bear country, you have the responsibility to keep trash contained," Healy said, adding that bears pay the ultimate price. Nevada Department of Wildlife also tracks bear capture-and-release statistics. According to the report, Nevada "handled" 906 bears between 2005 and 2014. Animals are tagged, tattooed or, more recently, implanted with scannable microchips. Healy said markings allow the department to determine whether bears were encountered in the past. Additionally, the state catalogs DNA from dead or captured bears. Nevada Department of Wildlife has often received criticism for how it handles black bears. In 2015 alone, five bears were euthanized in the Lake Tahoe Basin after being deemed "problem bears." Drought conditions contributed to the number of calls, Healy said. When nuts, berries and other natural sources of food aren't prevalent, they start sniffing around people's trash for meals. "The drought drives bear activity, and it's exacerbated because some are close to urban areas like Lake Tahoe," he explained. While most captured bears are released, those deemed repeat offenders are killed. Euthanization numbers fluctuate depending on year, however. Nevada put down only one bear in 2014, compared to 17 killed in 2008. A male bear captured on Aug. 25 in Incline was put down. On Aug. 28, a captured female yearling in the Kingsbury area of Stateline was also euthanized after getting into a garage. Both occasions included use of a bear trap. A third occasion trapped a mother and her cub on Sept. 1 in Crystal Bay, which stirred controversy. Nevada Department of Wildlife said the trap was not intended for a mother and cub, and the bears were released on Sept. 2. "The last thing we want to do is euthanize," Healy said. "We want [bears] wild and to not see them around neighborhood areas." Another trend Nevada Department of Wildlife is tracking is mother bears teaching cubs to rely on humans for food. The Kingsbury bear Nevada Department of Wildlife euthanized on Sept. 28 came from a litter tracked by wildlife officials for almost two decades. Two other bears from different litters by the same sow were also euthanized for public safety reasons. Recent bear-management techniques caused organizations like Homewood-based BEAR League to be critical of how Nevada handles its bear population. Ann Bryant, the BEAR League's executive director, said Nevada Department of Wildlife plays into people's fears and hypes bear danger. "It's time to get serious about educating people on bears," she said. "The most likely chance of being attacked by a black bear would be in the deep wilderness where there is no human contact." Instead of telling people that bears accustomed to humans are dangerous, education on trash containment is more effective, Bryant continued. The Lake Tahoe Basin should support mandatory bear-proof containers. "We should be able to be smarter than bears," she said. "Instead people play into the hype and are told that they are dangerous." For more information about Nevada Department of Wildlife, visit http://www.ndow.org. Note: This version updates the correction to the number of bears NDOW handled between 2005 and 2014.