Boosting the Bear Team | SierraSun.com

Boosting the Bear Team

Andrew Cristancho
Sierra Sun
Jim Grant/Sun News Service File PhotoA bear takes a look through a Tahoe backyard. A new California Department of Fish and Game bear biologist will help out in the Tahoe Basin " an area that saw record bear break-ins and numerous bruin deaths on area roadways.
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Unruly Tahoe bruins will have a second state bear biologist to deal with this fall, as the California Department of Fish and Game restructures and sends more help to the Tahoe Basin.

The move comes after a year of record home break-ins and deaths among Tahoe black bears.

“Well, basically the plan is for me to split the Basin with another biologist,” said Fish and Game Wildlife biologist Jason Holley. “In effect that is … doubling the resources in the Basin.”

The increased presence should be good for angry homeowners who were critical of the lack of response from local agencies last year.

“We are trying to get someone to get concerned,” said Timberland second homeowner Don Harder in a January interview. He said there were agencies for the advocacy of the bears but “who is for the people?”

Fish and Game’s presence in Tahoe can be spotty, according to Tom Millham of Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, the only wildlife rescue organization in California licensed to raise, rehabilitate and release bear cubs. He used the November 2007 capture and relocation of a mountain lion within a populated South Lake Tahoe subdivision as proof.

“[California Department of Fish and Game] decided not to respond,” Millham said.

Holley currently covers four counties as he did last bear season ” El Dorado and Alpine, Placer and San Joaquin. Wildlife Biologist Sara Holm will take Placer County off Holley’s plate, he said. She currently covers Nevada and Sacramento counties but will give up the latter if the restructuring is approved.

Typically the field scientists patrol two counties, Holm said. But because of staffing cuts some have been doing triple or quadruple duty.

Top Fish and Game officials, State Senator Dave Cox and Placer County Supervisor Bruce Kranz attended a meeting at the state capitol on the Tahoe bear issue in September 2007. A California Fish and Game Commission meeting in January addressed the issue of the coming bear season and what may have caused the record fatalities and break-ins last season.

But both biologists insist that the redistricting is not because of any political pressure, but a fix to a simple staffing issue and to “proactively” address the escalating bear problems in the high country.

“No, not at all. You know the increase in bear calls has been steadily increasing over the past few years. [The restructure] goes back to a split that goes back to 40 years ago,” said Holley.

The traditional split is coming back because another biologist is retiring from covering Sierra and Plumas counties, Holm said. As other personnel move to cover those areas, the position has not been rehired, Holley and Holm will move into their new roles, she explained.

While Holley earnestly stuck to the staffing and bear issue reasoning, Kranz said the real reason for the shift was political.

“I mean it was not happening before was it?” he said.

Kranz is convinced the reorganization of the field staff has to do with the meeting at the state capitol, along with several lower-level meetings he has been involved in organizing.

Holley said Tahoe is very pressing in spring, summer and fall. And although he said he was active in the area last year, the new boundaries may allow him to be “at the scene” more than in the past.

That’s good news for those that enjoy working with Holley.

“I think it is a great thing for us, we have done our best to work with [Holley and the Department of Fish and Game] and the BEAR League and Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care,” said Lt. Les Lovell of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office.

Holley and Holm said they will be training more on bear aversion techniques including using rubber bullets and bear dogs. The techniques will be used to scare the hungry bruins away from the scene of garbage raids or home break-ins.

Holley will remain the area bear expert for the Tahoe region.