Guest Column: Open letter to Tahoe bear advocates
Ryan Summerlin October 28, 2013
We’ve lived in Incline Village for 28 years, the past 18 of those in our current home. In all that time we have never had a bear enter our home. On Oct. 16, while we were away, a bear forced its way into our kitchen through a window and proceeded to raid the refrigerator and cabinets.
The damage wasn’t as bad as the mess, but it was unnerving. On three subsequent occasions later that night the bear returned and attempted to enter the kitchen again. In spite of our dog barking, our screaming, yelling and pounding on both the window and the shelves, we had difficulty getting the bear to leave. He showed absolutely no fear of us or our dog. We were hesitant to leave our home and made the decision to call the Nevada Department of Wildlife for assistance.
On Oct. 17, NDOW placed a bear trap in front of our house at our request. It was placed on the roadway as we could not get it up into our driveway.
Over the next several days, we had 24/7 “coverage” from a range of citizens claiming affiliation and allegiance to the “BEAR League.” We did our best to engage in conversation with whoever was standing guard and we would conservatively estimate that we met at least half of those citizens.
We would like to commend those who we spoke to. It was a very tense “situation,” and there was certainly the potential for either side (though we hate to generalize it that way) to lash out at each other; however, that did not happen.
We believe the effort we witnessed is not doomed to fail; however, it lacks the local leadership, cohesion and acceptance that would go far in attaining the long range goals we believe you are striving for.
1. Organize locally: There seems to be a consensus that you are a part of the BEAR League. That organization is based in California. When one mentions the Bear League in the Incline/Crystal Bay area, you tend to get very polarizing views.
2. Develop a good working relationship with governmental agencies: At least consider the benefits of that endorsement compared to what you have now — an adversarial relationship which has enhanced your reputation as an undisciplined group that resorts to intimidation and bullying tactics.
3. Disassociate yourselves with individuals and/or groups that promote vicious attacks: For instance, the Lake Tahoe Wall of Shame — if you want to alienate people; if you want them to not report bear problems; if you truly enjoy reading angry, misinformed, toxic diatribes; then by all means, endorse the Wall of Shame. As of this writing, it appears the BEAR League endorses the Wall of Shame. We don’t believe you can move forward as an effective advocacy group if you associate with that site.
How did we arrive at these suggestions? Through open dialogue with those of you we talked to. We received honest answers to difficult questions. Most of you, when asked about the offensive comments on The Wall of Shame, immediately disassociated yourself from it, yet you couldn’t explain why the BEAR League posted on that site as well.
Most of you had different versions of why you were in front of our house. Most of you quoted interesting statistics, but they were different than the persons both before and after you. Most of you hadn’t ever attended a membership meeting and couldn’t define the training you had received in bear aversion. Most of you couldn’t tell us who your leader/president/organizer was.
Several of you gave us contradicting advice on how to properly bear proof our home. Several of you didn’t recognize the person(s) relieving you of duty and couldn’t state for sure whether they were even a “member” of the BEAR League. To that point, the final two volunteers who showed up to watch the trap were identified by law enforcement as suspects in a tampering case from the previous week.
Is that how you want to be viewed? As an organization that promotes illegal activity?
We realize we are just two people, and our views/observations may be biased. That said — despite the fact we admire your passion for protecting bears, and we want to protect bears as well — unless your group dynamically changes, we will not reach out to you and request your assistance. We are still working with NDOW and have no intention of ending that dialogue.
Additionally, as was reported on the Wall of Shame, we did not ask for the trap to be removed because we were educated by you. We did not ask for the trap to be removed because you intimidated us. We did not ask for the trap to be removed because you bullied us. We chose to have the trap removed out of respect for our neighborhood and the recognition that our street was beginning to resemble Grand Central Station.
What we observed were bear advocates with passion, conviction and enthusiasm. Unfortunately, those traits are without direction. You have no legitimacy in this community because your existence appears to be driven through California.
As a result, you have alienated those you profess to want to assist and educate.
We challenge you to take a step back, reexamine your position and then step up, reorganize and lead. It is you who have closed the lines of communication. It is you who have endorsed bullying tactics against members of your community. It is you who have twisted statistics in an attempt to enrage the community. It is you who have chosen to falsely accuse various government officials of everything from ineptitude to criminal acts. It is you who have divided this community.
Bill and Deb Devine are Incline Village residents. Bill Devine is a sergeant with the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office and is treasurer on the Incline Village General Improvement District Board of Trustees.