Tension high over bear management in Nevada side of Tahoe Basin
A recent bear trap set in a neighborhood off Kingsbury Grade has reignited the debate on wildlife management on the Nevada side of the Tahoe Basin.
In one corner of the ring is the Homewood, California-based Bear League and those against the trap and release process of wildlife management, and in the other, the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW).
“NDOW should be teaching people how to cohabitate with bears, but in fact what they do is find a home owner who has a nuisance bear and they perpetuate mistruths about the bears. In fact there has never been a bear bite or a death of a human by a bear in California, Nevada or Oregon in the last 100 years,” said Staci Baker, a veterinarian, resident in the Kingsbury Grade neighborhood, and opponent of bear traps.
According to Baker, the trap was set in her neighborhood in mid-August after a bear went into the open garage of her 93-year-old neighbor on three separate occasions to get food. This neighbor, claimed Baker, had a history of feeding bears.
Baker said the trap was placed at the insistence of the neighbor’s caretaker, despite her offers to install electric fences and pour ammonia around her garage to deter the bear.
After the trap was in place for over two weeks, two cubs were caught in the trap, with a mother bear roaming outside. They were released on site by NDOW wildlife biologist Carl Lackey.
“There could be better ways to promote coexisting with bears and dealing with nuisance bears,” said Baker. “Seventy percent of bears that are trapped are not the offending bear.”
Baker said she uses an exercise ball to play “dodgeball” with bears that find there way into her neighborhood as a way to scare them off.
“I also put ammonia around my garbage and I stow my garbage in different places,” said Baker. “So there are simple things you can do without putting yourself in harm’s way.”
Baker alleged that NDOW, and Lackey in particular, is trapping and relocating Lake Tahoe bears to areas where the Nevada Bear Hunt is legal in order to stock the hunt.
Chris Healy, NDOW spokesman, said this accusation is simply not true.
“Up through 2015, we’ve had 71 bears killed in our hunt, and only four of them have been bears that you would call ‘conflict bears.’ The rest had either never been touched before, or when they were touched they were touched for research purposes,” said Healy.
The hunt began in 2011 and caps the quota at 20 bears a year.
“For instance if we capture a bear in South Lake and we move it up the hill and release it on the Gardnerville-Minden side, technically we’ve released it on to the hunt side. Did we put it there so a hunter could go after it? No, we’re trying to give the bear a chance and trying to stop its conflict behavior with the use of Karelian bear dogs if that’s the appropriate thing.”
Lackey, who has been targeted online with petitions calling for his termination and referred to as a “bear murderer,” said NDOW’s first option is always an onsite release, which may not always mean the exact spot of capture, but within the same watershed or mountain range.
If conflict behavior continues — NDOW operates on a three-strike policy for nuisance bears — or the bear presents immediate danger to a human, lethal force must be taken.
“When we do have to euthanize a bear, it sucks. It’s a sucky part of the job, but we are charged by Nevada Revised Statues and it’s part of the job,” said Lackey, who brushes off the online comments made about him.
“I do my best to ignore it. I know who I am. I know why I got into this business and what I’ve done for bear conservation in Nevada. So what they say does not bother me.”
In 2015, nine bears were killed for public safety and none were killed due to the three-strikes policy. Fourteen were killed in the Nevada Bear Hunt, 21 were hit by cars, and five died due to “other” causes.
Healy added that the idea perpetuated by groups like the Bear League that bears are docile creatures not capable of causing harm to humans is dangerous.
“That’s not a good thing for them to be saying because there is documentation all throughout the country that bears around humans can cause problems—the potential for death, the potential for injury, the potential for major property damage,” said Healy, pointing to 22-year-old student who was killed by a black bear in the woods of West Mildford, New Jersey in 2014.
“We need to respect the power they have as wild animals and aggressively try to keep the bears at a distance because when they are breaking into houses, that’s not good news.”
THE ROOT OF THE ISSUE
Despite the conflict between NDOW and wildlife groups like the Bear League, they all agree on one thing: the issue of conflict and nuisance bears is human-caused.
“We have advocated for many years now that bear-proof garbage containers in the Lake Tahoe Basin, both with commercial and residential, is the best solution. We haven’t gotten to that point yet, and it’s frustrating for us. We don’t have authority over garbage,” said Healy.
Lackey said that although a 2001 Douglas County ordinance was put in place for trash management, it has only been somewhat effective.
“If you allow a bear access to your trash, code enforcement will come out and give you a warning. If this happens a second time within a two-year period then you are required to get a bear can,” explained Lackey.
“The problem is it requires homeowners to tattletale on other homeowners.”
The high cost of bear-proof garbage canisters, which can range from $200 to $2,000, has been cited in the past as the biggest hurdle in making this solution mandatory in the counties that make up the Lake Tahoe Basin.
But until that happens, or if it ever does, said Lackey, the public can work at properly storing and disposing of garbage—and scaring away bears in human-inhabited areas, not snapping their pictures.