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Bear trap set in Stateline

Rick Chandler

There’s more trouble “bruin” in Lake Tahoe, as Nevada wildlife officials attempt to match wits with local black bears in the Kingsbury area of Stateline.

Is the Nevada Division of Wildlife smarter than the average bear? So far, the answer is no. The state delivered a bear trap to the Lake Village Condominium Complex in Stateline last Friday, in an attempt to capture four bears which have been raiding garbage cans.

But the only thing the state of Nevada has caught with the trap so far is grief, as area residents have again raised their voices in protest to protect their bears.

“These bears are just going through the trash; they’re not hurting anything,” said Chris, a Lake Village resident who didn’t want his last name used. “It’s a mom bear and three cubs, and I see them around all the time. If they trap these bears, odds are they’re going to kill them. I know some people who live around here have been springing the trap at night so no bears get caught.”

Bear management has become a hot-button issue in the Tahoe Basin ever since two bears were destroyed in the Homewood area a week ago. In that incident, a vacation resident reported the bears damaging his property, and California Fish and Game officials came out and trapped a mother bear and her cub, later destroying them.

But bear management policy is a little different in Nevada. If the bears in Lake Village are captured they will be relocated, according to Nevada Division of Wildlife spokesman Dave Rice.

“Usually we try to use a hazing technique, where we attempt to scare the bear into not returning,” Rice said. “We relocate the bear a few miles away, then use pepper spray and rubber bullets when we release it. The idea is to make it so unpleasant that the bear does not return.”

Nevada’s “Scared Straight” policy differs from California’s, where Fish and Game is mandated by law to destroy those animals which have been classified as “nuisance bears.”

“Our approach depends in part on the bear,” Rice said. “I’m not going to tell you that we never put a bear down. Once they learn where the food is, and they’ve figured out how to rip doors off their hinges, then we have a responsibility to people who might be in danger.”

According to Nevada Wildlife, six bears were destroyed in the period of July 1997 to July 1998 – two for public safety reasons. They relocated 15 bears during that same period.

But are black bears really dangerous? There has been only one report of a bear attack in northern Nevada over the past two decades. In 1992, a man in the Spooner Summit area was feeding a bear from the tailgate of his pickup truck, and the bear struck him in the face.

“The guy was eating his lunch, and this bear just walked up to him,” Rice said. “So the guy starts feeding the bear. But a problem arose when the guy ran out of food. The bear was still hungry, so it rose up on its hind paws and swiped him in the face.

“The guy was quite proud of what he had lived through, but I told him that he was very foolish. He could have lost his whole face.”

And such is the crux of the problem, according to one Lake Village resident, who lives about 300 yards from the state’s bear trap on South Rubicon Trail.

“You get these idiot vacationers who don’t know any better, and they come home drunk from the casino at night and want to pet the bears,” he said. “These people leave garbage out, and of course bears are going to come around. The bears are only doing what they do best; eat. It’s the people who should know better.”

The Lake Village complex, which sits next to state forest land, currently has no policy to provide bear-proof trash cans for their tenants. But that will soon change, according to Lake Village Homeowners Association general manager Gary Neumeyer.

“We don’t want to be a part of any bear killings,” Neumeyer said. “I’ve been very concerned over the issue ever since those bears were killed in Homewood. So I told Nevada Wildlife that I didn’t want the trap here if there was a chance the bears would be destroyed. They assured me they wouldn’t.”

In fact, Neumeyer said, the trap wasn’t even set until Wednesday, five days after Nevada Wildlife delivered it.

“I wanted to be sure the bears wouldn’t be harmed,” he said.

Neumeyer also said that the Homewood incident prompted him to begin pricing bear-proof trash containers for Lakewood residents.

“We hope to begin installing them by next spring,” he said. “At first we’ll put them in the area bears most frequently are seen. But we have 326 trash receptacles (in the complex), and the bear-proof containers are going for about $350 each. So you can see what I’m facing.”

There are about eight bears who frequent the Lake Village property, and some residents have grown nervous. In fact, several called Neumeyer and a few even called Nevada Wildlife to complain.

“And when people call, we have to respond,” Rice said. “That’s our job.”

But the whole problem could be solved if people were better educated about bears and their habits, according to Rice.

“We’ve got to get the word out, and frankly we haven’t been doing a great job of that,” he said. “Bears are generally harmless, and if people realized that, we wouldn’t have to trap them.”

Meanwhile, the bulletin board at the Lake Village office is covered with bear notices and information, and condo owners are informed about bears regularly in the association newsletter.

“But some people don’t read, I guess,” Neumeyer said.

Adding to the problem is the fact that the bear trap is located only just up the hill from Kingsbury Middle School, where curious youngsters might get more than they bargained for if they venture near it.

“We’ll look into that,” Rice said. “We don’t want to catch anything but bears.”

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

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