Bears, coyotes and soccer practice
Over years of hiking and biking, and fishing in the woods, I’ve only had two face-to-face encounters with bears. Both times I was on a bike in Oregon, and both times I turned around and went the other way, fast, before the bear could do anything about it.
But in the years I’ve lived and worked in the Lake Tahoe Basin and Truckee areas, I’ve only had the pleasure of seeing bears outside their environment, in mine. Mostly, I’d see them crawling in and out of the Dumpster next to my office in Truckee, or roaming around some city streets in South Tahoe. I’ve never felt threatened because they always seem to have a boring agenda, poking around front yards or pawing at scraps from garbage cans that should not be out.
The coyotes in my neighborhood are the same way. They follow dog walkers around, but are mostly interested in trash. And trash days are Friday, so the coyotes are around then.
I don’t have a particularly fond feeling about bears or coyotes. They are cute and lovable, from a distance, and replicate well in the stuffed animal world, but they are animals just like the squirrels or birds. I recognize the coyotes could snatch my dogs in a heartbeat – and I know a few neighbors who’ve lost dogs – so I steer clear. During those times when they are creeping near my back yard, I keep the dogs inside, and so far everything has worked out fine.
I like to take a live-and-let-live approach with Tahoe wildlife (except for the damn swallows), but it’s also hard to fault those who feel they must take action against invasive bears and overzealous coyotes.
When the snow was piled high and the winter extended, the coyotes were out in force. They would set up camp in the yards of vacant second homes, probably hoping for a cat or small dog to cruise by. My friend calls them “The Al Tahoe 5,” like they are in a leather jacket-wearing gang … smoking cigarettes and cruising in an animal rendition of “West Side Story.” In that way, they do present somewhat of a danger.
Cat and small dog lovers have every right to send that coyote packing, preferably peacefully, or at most with a pellet lodged in its hind quarters from an air-powered rifle. Same with bears. Homeowners should practice prudent trash management – bear-proof containers taken out the morning of – but sometimes that’s not enough. Bears here don’t have natural predators (besides the declining number of bear hunters), and an easy meal is preferable to traditional foraging.
Living in the mountains is about striking a balance between the hunters, hunted and getting the kids to soccer practice on time. To say we live in the wild is somewhat of an overstatement (How many Starbucks can be built before it’s not “wild” anymore?), and homeowners, full-time or second-home, shouldn’t be expected to accommodate a bear that decides to hibernate under a porch, or tear the insides of a Chevy Cavalier, or break down a sliding-glass door in search of peanut butter.
That said, the shoot-to-kill mentality that prevails among some – including some of our readers – seems counterproductive. And it indicates that as unwanted bear visitation becomes more prevalent, a solution to the bear problem becomes more needed.
Organizations like the BEAR League oppose the practice by California Fish and Game officials of trapping and killing bears (once a homeowner requests a depredation permit). On the Nevada side, it is the Department of Wildlife’s policy of relocating first-time offenders, and dispatching “nuisance” bears that habitually return and do property damage and endanger humans in their search for food.
Perhaps it is time for a unified approach to bears (and coyotes). If we enforce laws about leaving trash out overnight, or require bear-proof containers, that’s one step. Another is to create trash drop-off stations in and out of town so tourists can conveniently dump trash that would otherwise sit for a week in the driveway of a vacation home. Education is key.
Secondly, California legislators should hear from interested Tahoe residents about laws that allow bear depredation, and if enough voices carry, then laws can be changed to reflect an approach that is more reasonable, like what Nevada does. Efforts to change these practices have failed in the past, but that does not mean they will fail in the future.
Thirdly, we must come to terms with the reality that wildlife populations, unchecked, will result in increased contact between wildlife and humans. As with the Canada goose problem, sometimes animals have to be rounded up and moved, or in extreme circumstances, dispatched to an early grave. Wildlife officials visited Tahoe last week to trap some geese, and they were shipped to eastern Nevada. Problem-solution.
Bear and coyote problems don’t have to be complicated. All we have to do is apply a little bit of common sense to the issue, get together and do something about it.
– Jim Scripps, managing editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.