Advocates fight to save bears from euthanization

Miranda Jacobson

STATELINE, Nev. — Following an on-going string of soft entries in homes by bears, the Nevada Department of Wildlife recently trapped a mother bear and three cubs.

NDOW used the trap after a report of a bear entering a home through an open door in the Kingsbury Grade area and coming in contact with a sleeping occupant.

But after trapping the bears, NDOW released them due to no evidence that they were the same ones who entered residences.

“We didn’t have any DNA on these bears, so we weren’t able to connect them with any bears who had been in homes recently or had caused any damage on the property or anything like that,” NDOW Public Information Officer Ashley Sanchez said.

The agency has trapped and relocated hundreds of bears, but also has been known over the years to euthanize them. Between September 2011 and March 2021, at least 59 have been euthanized.

The bear traps used to trap bears around the basin. NDOW doesn’t use adversion methods on mother bears and cubs due to the already troubling experience they have while in the trap. Provided Dr. Staci Baker

“Every situation is completely case-by-case,” Sanchez said. “But it usually comes down to public safety. And if we see that there’s a public safety threat, oftentimes in certain situations, that’s where we’ll make the decision and have to euthanize the bear.”

As an influx of visitors explore the basin, the need for education on living in bear country is more important than ever, and agencies around the basin are working to inform those not used to dealing with wildlife on how to avoid potential bear euthanizations.

Ann Bryant, executive director of the Bear League, said that they have been receiving hundreds of calls a day about soft entries by bears.

“They’re not called break-ins,” Bryant said. “They’re called soft entries; when the bear doesn’t really have to even break anything, it just opens a window or a door and walks in like a human.”

Bryant explained that there were many factors playing into the increased amount of soft entries around the basin.

“What we’re seeing is there’s more people’s eyes on bears,” Bryant said. “In other words, there’s more people seeing bears, and then it’s a bigger deal. So it used to be that there wasn’t quite as many people here, people weren’t seeing the bears and they were still out there. But it’s like when a pine cone falls in the forest; if you’re not there to hear it, did it happen? It’s the same thing.

“We are having visitors here who are not bear aware. The rental agents, some of them aren’t giving information about bears and to lock your accessible windows and doors because bears know how to open them. If they’re not locked, they will come in. So because it’s hot and people want air, they’re leaving all the windows open in the whole house, even in rooms where they’re not sleeping or they don’t need air in those rooms.”

Both Bryant and Sanchez offered a variety of different resources and information for both locals and tourists to use in order to keep themselves and the bears safe.

Bryant explained that the Bear League is always a great resource to use due to the multitude of members around the lake available to help, along with their quick response time.

“We definitely will jump and run,” Bryant said.

She also suggested the local sheriff’s offices (Washoe, Douglas or El Dorado) as great resources to use, both are timely and non-lethal to bears. But Bryant said that if a person who encounters a bear in their home can allow the bear to exit safely, that may be the best option.

“As long as you’re not standing in his escape route inadvertently or on purpose … you can’t be yelling at him to get out and then you’re standing right in his way,” Bryant said. “He doesn’t know the blueprint to your house.”

The need to widen the education about bears comes after a string of recent bear soft-entries, one which resulted in a South Tahoe visitor shooting a bear.

The gravely wounded bear was found the next day by officials and euthanized.

Local veterinarian Dr. Staci Baker said that although many instances like this are occurring with tourists and new residents to the basin, it’s a problem that locals also need to take responsibility for.

“We all need to be accountable,” Baker said, and applauded NDOW for releasing the bears and not euthanizing them. “Every single time we demand accountability, we request records, educate neighbors, and confront people that are new to the area or short-term rentals and let them know what we do. I’m calling for education; not traps.”

Dr. Baker has been combating the trapping of bears by NDOW along with other practices that can be harmful to the bears. Pictured is an article she wrote for the Tribune in 2018 about the issue of lack of education on bears. (Provided / Staci Baker)

Baker is among the many who are trying to prevent the euthanization and trapping of bears by NDOW through spreading education and spearheading their own efforts to help everyone co-exist with the bears. One of the ways that everyone in the basin can do that is through understanding how intelligent bears truly are, and how easy it is to prevent soft-entries into homes and vehicles.

“Garbage attracts these guys,” Baker said. “And they don’t sleep. They sleep five months out of the year.”

Baker said that practicing safe trash disposal, keeping doors and windows closed and locked always when not home, and using a loud voice, rocks, or dogs to help chase bears away, people can avoid needing to call NDOW and the potential euthanization of a bear.

There are a variety of other hubs of information on safely living with bears. Sanchez suggested, which was created by NDOW and partnered with other bear agencies in order to educate those living in the basin.

For those who are unable to find a way to cool down the house, the Bear League suggested leaving a noise maker in front of any open windows or doors in order to scare off the bears from entering into the home. The Bear League’s website offers more information on bear safety, and for help with any bear incidents, they’re hotline number is available 24 hours a day at 530-525-PAWS (7297).

Baker is also available to help with any bear issues, and can be reached at 530-316-5026.

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