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Bear biologist will be added to basin

Andrew Cristancho / Sierra Sun

Unruly Tahoe bruins will have a second state bear biologist to deal with this fall, as the California Department of Fish and Game restructures and sends more help to the Lake Tahoe Basin.

The move comes after a year of record home break-ins and deaths among Tahoe black bears.

“Well, basically the plan is for me to split the basin with another biologist,” said Fish and Game Wildlife biologist Jason Holley. “In effect, that is … doubling the resources in the basin.”

The increased presence should be good for angry homeowners who were critical of the lack of response from local agencies last year.

“We are trying to get someone to get concerned,” Timberland second homeowner Don Harder said in January. He said there were agencies for the advocacy of the bears, but “who is for the people?”

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Fish and Game’s presence at Tahoe can be spotty, according to Tom Millham of Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, the only wildlife rescue organization in California licensed to relocate bear cubs. He used the capture and relocation of a mountain lion within a populated South Lake Tahoe subdivision in November as evidence.

“(California Department of Fish and Game) decided not to respond,” Millham said.

Holley currently covers four counties, as he did last bear season – El Dorado, Alpine, Placer and San Joaquin. Wildlife biologist Sara Holm will take Placer County off Holley’s plate, he said. She now covers Nevada and Sacramento counties but will give up the latter if the restructuring is approved.

Typically, the field scientists patrol two counties, Holm said. But because of staffing cuts, some have been doing triple or quadruple duty.

Top Fish and Game officials, State Sen. Dave Cox and Placer County Supervisor Bruce Kranz attended a meeting at the state Capitol on the Tahoe bear issue last September. A California Fish and Game Commission meeting in January addressed the issue of the coming bear season and what may have caused the record bear fatalities and break-ins last season.

Both biologists insist the redistricting is not because of any political pressure but is to “proactively” address the escalating bear problems in the high country.

“No, not at all. You know,the increase in bear calls has been steadily increasing over the past few years. (The restructure) goes back to a split that goes back to 40 years ago,” Holley said.

The traditional split is coming back because another biologist is retiring from covering Sierra and Plumas counties, Holm said. As other personnel move to cover those areas, the position has not been rehired, and Holley and Holm will move into their new roles, she explained.

Kranz, the county supervisor, said the real reason for the shift was political.

“I mean, it was not happening before, was it?” he said.

Kranz is convinced the reorganization of the field staff has to do with the meeting at the Capitol, along with several lower-level meetings he has been involved in organizing.

Holley said Tahoe is very pressing in spring, summer and fall. And although he said he was active in the area last year, the new boundaries may allow him to be “at the scene” more than in the past.

That’s good news for those who enjoy working with Holley.

“I think it is a great thing for us. We have done our best to work with (Holley and the Department of Fish and Game) and the BEAR League and Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care,” said Lt. Les Lovell of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office.

Holley and Holm said they will be training more on bear-aversion techniques, including using rubber bullets and bear dogs. The techniques will be used to scare the hungry bruins away from the scene of garbage raids or home break-ins.

Holley will remain the area bear expert for the Tahoe region.


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