An escalating situation: In less than 2 days, Tahoe bear trap incident morphs into a much larger issue of public safety
North Lake Tahoe Bonanza
Editor’s note: The names of the two residents quoted in this story are being withheld in an effort to protect their identities.
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. – The latest chapter in the ever-evolving debate between Lake Tahoe locals’ love for the black bear population here and whether or not government should have a say in controlling it has apparently transformed into a much more serious issue of public safety.
State and county officials are investigating a pair of incidents regarding alleged equipment tampering and threatening phone calls made in apparent response to the Nevada Department of Wildlife’s placement of a baited black bear trap in a residential neighborhood.
After talking with a pair of residents who reported one or more bears had torn some siding off a home and broken into two unlocked vehicles recently in the Saddlehorn neighborhood in upper northwest Incline Village, NDOW game warden Jake Kreamer set the trap late Saturday afternoon near a home on Matchless Court.
In a Monday evening phone interview, NDOW spokesman Chris Healy said reports indicate a mother bear and her two yearling offspring were likely causing the damage. According to his discussions with Kreamer, Healy said the unlocked vehicles broken into did not have food in them. Furthermore, while a barbecue grill was found damaged near the home where a 5-foot by 5-foot piece of siding was torn off, it was not determined to be an attractant for the bruins.
“Wandering around is one thing, but when there is real damage, then these bears have to be considered extremely dangerous to human beings,” said Healy. “The person who made the phone call concerned with their safety was correct to do so.”
The trap – which was baited with chocolate cake to lure the bears – has since been illegally tampered with, Healy said.
“We’re not sure at this point who did it, but it’s clear they have broken the law, and if we can build a case against them, we certainly will do that,” he said.
Earlier Monday, a resident living in the neighborhood filed a complaint with the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office about a series of threatening phone calls she said she’s received since Sunday afternoon from area residents accusing her of trying to get NDOW to kill the bears.
The resident – whose car was one of those broken into – said she’s also witnessed people driving up and down her road and looking at her home.
“I’ve called the cops, and we are documenting a pattern of threats,” she said. “I haven’t even left my house at all today because I’m frightened. It’s absolutely ridiculous.”
A WCSO deputy confirmed Monday the department is investigating possible threatening calls.
The alleged threats are likely in response to information about the bear trap published Sunday on Facebook and in a press release to regional media from a pair of Lake Tahoe pro-wildlife organizations, the BEAR League and Lake Tahoe Wall of Shame.
Ann Bryant, executive director of the Homewood, Calif.-based nonprofit BEAR League, said Sunday as many as two residents had contacted the wildlife department to install the trap because they didn’t want bears roaming the neighborhood.
“This is a classic case of people not liking our bears and they don’t want to learn about them – they just want to kill them,” she said.
According to a press release issued Sunday afternoon from Mark E. Smith (founder of the Facebook group Lake Tahoe Wall of Shame), the same residents are “actively and aggressively soliciting … NDOW to capture and kill local bears.”
The female resident interviewed Monday said much of the press release and information provided by the BEAR League is false. She said she is in fact a supporter of the BEAR League and other pro-wildlife groups like NoBearHuntNV.org, and has donated money over the years to both groups’ causes. The resident also said she is very upset at the decision by the BEAR League and Lake Tahoe Wall of Shame to encourage people to call her home phone and drive by her house.
She said she initially contacted the BEAR League to report the car break-ins and to see what could be done to get the bears relocated. She said she never contacted NDOW to report an issue.
Also in a Monday interview, a second resident living in the neighborhood said he and neighbors had seen bears innocently roaming the area for a couple weeks; he eventually called the BEAR League after his siding was ripped and barbecue overturned.
Bear relocation is not allowed in Nevada, and the BEAR League informed the residents of that, Bryant said Sunday. Bryant said she then went on to attempt to educate the resident.
“He called me and asked for advice and I told him what he could do to avoid having any further bear problems,” said Bryant in a Monday email. She said he encouraged him to dump Pine-Sol on his siding, which should take care of the problem.
The male resident – who’s owned his Incline home for the past 22 years – said Bryant gave him “a lecture” on things he should have done or should be doing to avoid a future encounter, which he found frustrating.
The resident said he let the situation go for a while, but once he heard from neighbors of the vehicle break-ins, he called NDOW to report what he called an “escalating issue with the bears in the neighborhood.”
“Someone’s going to get hurt,” the resident said Monday. “I didn’t want my house broken into again. I wouldn’t put up with people breaking into my house, and I’m not going to put up with bears.”
Bryant said she thought she had a “very friendly” conversation with the resident; a “lecture” was an incorrect description of the call.
The Lake Tahoe Wall of Shame press release from Sunday encourages locals who know the two residents to “have a chat with them about what it means to live at Tahoe.”
Furthermore, a Facebook post Sunday by the group shared a similar message: “There are two of your neighbors who are actively and aggressively soliciting NDoW to capture and kill local bears …”
Many of the responses to this and other posts are from local residents who allude to ways to close or tamper with the bear trap, while others question the residents’ ability to understand what it means to live in bear country.
The male resident interviewed Monday said he was upset to read negative comments and misinformation on Facebook because he was one of the first people in his neighborhood to install a bear-proof trash container a few years ago, and he in general is a lover of pets and wildlife. He and the female resident both said part of the reason they moved here was because of the wildlife population, not despite it.
Healy also shared his displeasure for the situation.
“For these people to put (the two residents) up to public ridicule, people who have legitimate concerns about public safety, it is wholly irresponsible,” Healy said. “Just because there are many people passionate about the bears in Incline doesn’t give anyone the right to harass those people and tamper with the trap.
“When you cross the line and encourage and/or make threats, then those people have really lost perspective.”
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