Hunting bears was illegal in Nevada. Wildlife department video shows how they scare bears away from populated areas, but last August, Nevada launched its first-ever bear hunt and allowed the use of dogs. The rules allowed shooting up to 20 bears, but fewer were actually killed.
"We had 14 bears taken, nine males, five females," Chris Healy recalled. He is with the Nevada Department of Wildlife which caught one hunter illegally baiting a bear "using apples, using bacon grease, and also used a scented oil that would attract the bear."
The hunt has created a huge public outcry, especially at Lake Tahoe. Ann Bryant runs The Bear League which helps Tahoe residents with problem bears. Instead of the usual calls about bears in the garbage, she got calls about hunters with guns. "We had calls from people that were frightened, that were threatened, that were scared on the hiking trails," she said.
Tahoe's shore is divided between California and Nevada. California has had bear hunting for years. More than 1,200 bears were killed last year in fact, but the range is huge, so hunters tend to stay out of the Tahoe area. In Nevada though, most bears live in a small corner of the state right near Tahoe.
Even though the Nevada hunt is tiny compared to California's, it hit a nerve. "People in Tahoe are very wildlife friendly. I mean, we live here because we want to live with the wildlife," Bryant said. So, the Nevada Wildlife Commission is considering a compromise "to basically restrict the hunting in the Tahoe basin, to basically not have the hunting there," Healy explained.
One proposal calls for no hunting inside the Tahoe Rim Trail. That is a trail that roughly follows the crest of the mountains around the lake. A group called "No Bear Hunt Nevada" welcomes any limits on the hunt, but says it should be even farther from the lake. "I think this is crazy. They are proposing that the Rim Trail pose the boundary. Well, 3 million people visit the basin and hike on that Rim Trail. The hunters use the trail. The bears use the trail. It's a recipe for disaster," Chris Schwamberger told ABC7.
The Wildlife Commission will also consider starting the bear hunt season later in the year on September 15. "That will eliminate a lot of the tourist traffic which traditionally kind of culminates with that Labor Day weekend," Healy said. Even with restrictions, critics call the hunt cruel and say there is not enough research on the actual number of bears in Nevada. State officials say they have got solid science behind them.
The Wildlife commission votes on the proposal this weekend, but there is no certainty it will pass. The two sides cannot even agree on whether any bears were actually killed in the Tahoe area because they do not agree on what it boundaries are.
Written and produced by Jennifer Olney