Giving bears a second chance
It happens almost every time a bear takes a stroll across someone’s yard: the sheriff’s office is called and the sometimes frantic caller reports there’s a bear in their yard.
“This is an almost everyday occurrence at this time of year, and people have to remember that the bears have been here for a very long time,” Nevada Department of Wildlife Biologist Carl Lackey said. “These aren’t nuisance bears. They’re just bears going from point ‘A’ to point ‘B.'”
There has been some suggestion that bears be given something akin to a “three strikes” law, but it is far from a solution, Lackey said.
“To make a blanket assessment that because a bear has committed three nuisance acts and then euthanize him is just wrong,” Lackey said. “We have certain guidelines on what is to be done with a bear should it exhibit certain behavior and, thank God, three offenses (is) out is not one of them.”
According to Lackey, if a bear exhibits aggressive behavior by attacking a person or breaking into a house, it’s generally put down.
“But tipping over someone’s trash or walking through the yard is just a bear doing what a bear does, and in the case of the trash, it’s the bear taking advantage of what a human gives them.”
Eric Loft, wildlife branch chief of the California Department of Fish and Game, agrees with Lackey that nuisance bears are not necessarily problem bears.
“We always try to take each bear individually. Some are just being a pain, and to lump them into the same category as the one who just broke into your SUV is a mistake,” Loft said. “We have a 10-page state procedure that we use when dealing with bears and bear situations, but we still leave a lot of what is to be done to the warden’s judgment.”
Lackey said bears that hang around neighborhoods are only doing it because of what humans offer them.
To these bears who have to consume tens of thousands of calories, someone’s backyard with a loaded garbage can is a better habitat than one where he has to hunt berries. “Should he be punished for that?” Lackey said.
Relocating bears is almost a daily routine for Lackey at this time of year.
“There are some bears that I’ve been catching for eight or nine years and it’s not because they’re bad – they just happen to like the stale doughnuts that are in the trap,” Lackey said. “There’s also an assumption that if a bear is constantly being caught, they haven’t learned, but they have. We just make it to easy for them to backslide. They’re opportunists and they love to eat.”
It’s been a non-stop struggle for Lackey to get people to understand the nature of the bears in the basin, but he’ll keep pressing on.
“Sometimes it sounds like a broken record, but it can’t be said enough. If people just watch out where and how they keep their trash, the bears won’t have a food source and will go to an area where there is one,” Lackey said. “It’s up to us to help them change the habit we’ve instilled in them, the one that’s causing all the problems.”