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Ammonia Drop targets bears

Rick Chandler

Operation Ammonia Drop went off without a hitch on Tuesday, and Lake Tahoe bear lovers could not be happier.

Actual bears, however, are a bit annoyed – as one of their four-star eateries is now on the endangered list.

Management of the Lake Village Condominium Complex in the Kingsbury area of Stateline have been working for some time to solve an ongoing bear problem on the 300-unit property, which backs state forest land and is a popular feeding spot for black bears.

Responding to concerns of some condo owners who have been alarmed by bears rummaging through their garbage cans, the Nevada Division of Wildlife delivered a bear trap to the complex two weeks ago. But the effort to trap the offending bruins – a mother bear and three cubs – met with stiff resistance among another large faction of Lake Village dwellers who feel the bears are harmless and should be left alone.

The trap – which has captured no bears – was removed on Tuesday. Apparently, some residents had been slipping in at night and springing the trap’s door, to the consternation of state wildlife officials.

In the middle of all this was Lake Village general manager Gary Neumeyer, who has been trying for years to mediate the conflicts between bears and his tenants. Despite Neumeyer’s attempts to educate his tiny community, some were still leaving garbage out for extended periods – an engraved invitation to hungry bears trying to pack on pounds for the winter.

But on Tuesday, a new strategy was employed. In much the same fashion that bears have been raiding Tahoe trash cans, volunteers from Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care raided the Raley’s Supermarket at the “Y”, cleaning out its supply of bottled ammonia and delivering it to Lake Village.

“Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care called us recently and asked if there was something we could do together (about the bear problem),” Neumeyer said. “They delivered 15 gallons of ammonia, which we will share with our (condo) owners when their garbage has been raided.”

The idea is to identify a spot where bears have been, clean up the strewn trash and the add ammonia to the cans so the bears don’t come back. It’s a popular method which Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care has been using for years on its own property in Meyers. The ammonia smell tends to make the bruins sick – and they remember the experience and stay away from the targeted area.

Would it work at Lake Village? Neumeyer decided to try a test – having a pizza delivered and depositing it in a trash bin in back of the condo offices. But he also added some ammonia.

That night the bears arrived on schedule – can anyone resist pepperoni and mushroom? – and they gave the meal their lowest rating.

“Gary kept a watch that night, and saw the bears open the trash bin lid,” said Carla Ennis of Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care. “Then they let it slam down and they walked away.

“I think the neat thing about this is that Gary didn’t just look for the easy way out,” Ennis said. “He has always worked on his own to find non-lethal ways to deal with bears. He’s taken a very pro-active approach to the problem, and that’s really refreshing, because a lot of times things have gone in the other direction.”

Two bears which were classified as “nuisance animals” by the California Department of Fish and Game were trapped and destroyed recently in the Homewood area, sparking a howl of protest from Tahoe residents who claim that garbage-raiding bears are actually no threat to people.

The policy is a little different in Nevada, where officials are more likely to trap offending bears and shoo them back into the woods – which is what the Nevada Division of Wildlife was trying to do at Lake Village.

“I have a responsibility to the tenants here from a risk-management point of view,” Neumeyer said. “But I also love bears, and don’t want to see them hurt. Education is the key. We put out a lot of information in our newsletter and other articles, but we’re also happy to take any additional steps we can.”

Neumeyer is in the process of obtaining bear-proof trash cans for problem areas in the complex.

Meanwhile, the Nevada Division of Wildlife said that the bear trap will probably be back.

“People were sabotaging the trap, and we need to get the word out that that is illegal,” said Nevada Division of Wildlife Biologist Carl Lackey, who is in charge of the bear-removal efforts. “You can be fined up to $500 for tampering with a bear trap.”

Lackey urges anyone who has any information on sabotage of state wildlife equipment to contact his office at 1-800-992-3030.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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