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Nevada Mulls Creation of First Black Bear Hunt in State's History

Published: November 16, 2010
November Print Edition
by David Bunker

Nevada's black bears

Nevada’s black bear population has historically been protected from hunting by its miniscule size — but beginning next year that may change.

The Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners will decide this December whether the Silver State’s approximately 300 black bears can be hunted — including being hounded by packs of bear dogs and shot by archers — much like they already are in California.

hunters load rifles

But the proposal is drawing opposition in the Tahoe Basin. Opponents note that unlike California, where bear habitat is abundant, Nevada’s bear hunting could be much more concentrated in Tahoe forests that are riddled with hikers, mountain bikers, and runners.

Others can’t believe that Nevada is proposing a bear hunt for the first time in its history in 2010, and contemplating hunting methods, such as hounding, that animal activists decry as unethical both for the hounds and for the bear.

“I think hounding is cruel and unbalanced and unfair,” said Ann Bryant, executive director of Tahoe’s BEAR League.

“Houndsmen to them is a sport, but for us a sport is when it is equal on all sides … to pit a bear against a hunter with high-powered rifle, hounds, a truck, that is not fair. The bear does not have a chance.”

The Nevada Department of Wildlife, the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners, and the state’s hunters have a much different view of the bear hunt.

Nevada’s bear population is growing at about 16 percent per year, and the black bear hunt will be managed so that the bear population remains stable, according to the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

“There is no rational biological reason not to have a hunt,” said Scott Raine, the chairman of the board of wildlife commissioners.

But a subtext to the black bear hunt is stirring up even more controversy. Nevada wildlife commissioners say that allowing a bear hunt may alleviate some of the bear conflicts that Nevada neighborhoods around Lake Tahoe have been experiencing.

Bryant, who has been dealing with Tahoe bear issues for more than a decade, said that idea is ludicrous.

“All it does is it tends to drive the bears from the backwoods into the urban areas, because hunters can’t hunt near a neighborhood. It actually causes more bear conflicts,” said Bryant. “It doesn’t re-establish the fear of humans in a bear that has been shot dead.”

The Nevada Department of Wildlife, which is completely separate from the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners but provides scientific data for the hunt, has been downplaying the significance of a bear hunt on bear problems.

“The bear hunt is not a permanent solution [to the urban bear problem]. Only strict ordinances on trash storage will do that,” said a department of wildlife statement. “It could help with site-specific conflict problems during the summer months if [the department of wildlife] were able to refer tag holders to areas where land/home owners are experiencing conflicts.”

If the hunt is approved, one thing is certain; Nevada’s black bear hunt will be tiny compared to neighboring California’s bear season, where nearly 2,000 black bears are killed by hunters each year. State wildlife officials recommend that approximately 40 bears be killed by hunters each year, and that when a certain amount of females are killed (approximately 12, according to the proposal) the hunt be closed.

Raine said the commission can exclude hounds from the Tahoe Basin — a proposal he is in favor of — or even exclude hunting from the Tahoe Basin altogether.

“None of the areas where a future hunt would be allowed have been determined yet,” said Chris Healy, spokesman for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. “We as an agency are well aware of [the potential conflicts with Tahoe area residents].”

The Incline Village General Improvement District has remained neutral on the hunt, said district Resource Conservationist Madonna Dunbar, but IVGID has been actively informing residents about the hunt.

“We felt it was important for the public to be aware of the hunt,” said Dunbar. “People who recreate need to know that there is the potential for [conflicts].”

Dunbar noted that the bear hunt may be viewed favorably by state wildlife commissioners because of the revenue it will bring to the state’s bear programs.

Bryant says the revenue the state will receive from hunting licenses and tag applications is the driving force behind the hunt.

And that is something she finds repugnant.

“What it all boils down to is it is for profit. It is for hunting licenses. They are willing to sell the bears of Nevada to ensure their job security?” said Bryant. “They are going to wake up really soon and realize that they do not have any bears at all.”

The disagreements between bear activists, state wildlife commissioners, bear-friendly Tahoe residents, and hunters are likely to continue until the Dec. 3 and 4 wildlife commissioners meeting when the fate of a portion of Nevada’s small population of black bears is decided by a governor-appointed panel.

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