Ponderosa visitor has bigger appetite than Hoss does
INCLINE VILLAGE (AP) – Rancher Ben Cartwright wasn’t available to handle the problem bear at the Ponderosa Ranch last week, but Carl Lackey was up to the task.
The bear expert for the Nevada Division of Wildlife set a trap at the famous Lake Tahoe tourist destination, trying to snare the animal that was raiding trash bins and had broken into a meat locker, eating, among other things, two gallons of ranch dressing.
A few days later, the trap was sprung and Lackey had a 380-pound bruin on his hands. Folks weren’t sure if it was the same bear that had been causing trouble at the Ponderosa, but it was one Lackey knew had been getting into garbage around Incline Village for the last two years and had been caught before.
The bear was tranquilized, weighed, outfitted with a new radio collar. Then he was awakened, released, and afforded the usual treatment.
”We sprayed him with pepper spray, shot him with rubber buckshot, treed him twice with dogs,” Lackey told the Reno Gazette-Journal. ”We made it as miserable as we could for him.”
Such aversion techniques are designed to convince bears that people are trouble and prompt them to stay away, a strategy that goes hand in hand with removing sources of food people provide so readily.
Lackey said the bear caught at the Ponderosa might not return there anytime soon. But experts flying over Incline Village a couple of days later picked up radio signals from the animal’s collar. He was still in a populated area and, Lackey fears, apt to find trouble again.
”He may avoid the Ponderosa but he’ll get into another area that has garbage,” Lackey said. ”People up there are still leaving their garbage out. This guy could end up becoming real bold and have to be killed.”
Such is the problem around Lake Tahoe and in the foothills from Reno to Gardnerville. Sloppy habits of people living in or visiting prime bear habitat are prompting these animals to engage in dangerous behavior, sometimes with tragic results.
Dry conditions this year could prompt more animals to enter neighborhoods in search of grub due to a shortage of natural foods, Lackey said.
”There’s a large number that depend almost entirely on human food,” Lackey said. ”The sows bring their cubs down and show them these neighborhoods just like a favored berry patch. Then the cubs return.”
Mountain snows melting generally means the arrival of bear season as the animals roust themselves from hibernation and begin an active search for food.
But this year’s mild winter allowed some bears to stay awake all winter. And as the tourist season begins, the black bears that make the Sierra their home will grow increasingly active.
Jon Beckmann, a researcher at University of Nevada-Reno, is studying the urban bear problem at Lake Tahoe and along the Sierra Front.
He is researching population densities, reproductive rates, mortality rates and other differences between black bears in the backcountry and those frequenting areas populated by humans.
”Basically we’re comparing bears that are eating garbage to bears that are eating what they should be,” Beckmann said.
One preliminary conclusion is that the ready year-round food supply provided by garbage is causing some bears to skip winter hibernation altogether.
”If you just feed them all winter, they’ll never go down,” Beckmann said, adding that removing unnatural food sources easily provided by garbage is the key to reducing bear problems.
”The bears are going to leave if they can’t get any food,” Beckmann said. ”It’s a simple solution but it’s hard to implement.”
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