Tahoe bear calls in Nevada this year likely to surpass those from 2014 | SierraSun.com

Tahoe bear calls in Nevada this year likely to surpass those from 2014

Jack Barnwell
jbarnwell@tahoedailytribune.com
A mama bear climbs up on a large stump Wednesday, Sept. 2, in search of her cub. Both bears were released above Crystal Bay after they were accidentally captured by Nevada Department of Wildlife.
Brad Coman / Nevada Appeal |

LAKE TAHOE — As Lake Tahoe black bear activity escalates before winter hibernation, the Nevada Department of Wildlife is reporting that drought conditions and human error involving trash are direct impacts.

According to a 2014 report from Carl Lackey, NDOW’s chief biologist, 704 human-bear conflicts were reported in 2014, up from 498 in 2013. The report encompasses Western Nevada — including Washoe, Douglas and Carson counties and outlying regions.

Chris Healy, the department’s spokesperson, said bear calls in 2015 have spiked, and activity is expected to pass 2014.

With bears entering an autumn period of increased calorie consumption, those numbers will continue to grow.

“If we surpass numbers in 2014, it’s going to be one hell of a September,” Healy said.

Incline Village received 100 bear calls alone in 2014, which made up 15 percent of bear complaints last year.

Another 14 percent of 2014’s complaints came from Douglas County, including Stateline and Zephyr Cove on the South Shore.

Human-generated trash is a central cause of bear issues in the Lake Tahoe Basin, officials said. Responsibility for trash removal and control falls to local governments and residents.

“If you are going to live in bear country, you have the responsibility to keep trash contained,” said Healy, adding that bears pay the ultimate price.

HANDLING VS. KILLING BEARS

NDOW also tracks bear capture-and-release statistics. According to Lackey’s report, Nevada “handled” 140 bears between 2005 and 2014. Animals are tagged, tattooed or, more recently, implanted with scannable microchips.

Healy said markings allow the department to determine whether bears were encountered in the past. Additionally, the state catalogs DNA from dead or captured bears.

NDOW has often received criticism for how it handles black bears. In 2015 alone, five bears were killed in the Lake Tahoe Basin after being deemed “problem bears.”

Drought conditions contributed to the number of calls, Healy said. When nuts, berries and other natural sources of food aren’t prevalent, they start sniffing around people’s trash for meals.

“The drought drives bear activity, and it’s exacerbated because some are close to urban areas like Lake Tahoe,” he explained.

While most captured bears are released, those deemed repeat offenders are killed. Numbers fluctuate depending on year, however. Nevada put down only one bear in 2014, compared to 17 in 2008.

A male bear captured on Aug. 25 in Incline was put down. On Aug. 28, a captured female yearling in the Kingsbury area of Stateline was also killed after getting into a garage. Both occasions included use of a bear trap.

A third occasion trapped a mother and her cub on Sept. 1 in Crystal Bay, which stirred controversy. NDOW said the trap was not intended for a mother and cub, and the bears were released on Sept. 2.

“The last thing we want to do is euthanize,” Healy said. “We want (bears) wild and to not see them around neighborhood areas.”

EDUCATION IS KEY

Another trend NDOW is tracking is mother bears teaching cubs to rely on humans for food.

The Kingsbury bear killed on Aug. 28 came from a litter tracked by wildlife officials for almost two decades.

Two other bears from different litters by the same sow were also killed previously for public safety reasons, according to NDOW.

Recent bear-management techniques caused organizations like Homewood-based BEAR League to be critical of how Nevada handles its bear population.

Ann Bryant, the BEAR League’s executive director, said NDOW plays into people’s fears and hypes bear danger.

“It’s time to get serious about educating people on bears,” she said. “The most likely chance of being attacked by a black bear would be in the deep wilderness where there is no human contact.”

Instead of telling people that bears accustomed to humans are dangerous, education on trash containment is more effective, Bryant continued. The Lake Tahoe Basin should support mandatory bear-proof containers.

“We should be able to be smarter than bears,” she said. “Instead, people play into the hype and are told that they are dangerous.”

For more information about Nevada Department of Wildlife, visit http://www.ndow.org.

For more information about the BEAR League, visit http://www.savebears.org.