Animal activists vow to stop Nevada bear hunt

Hunting bears was illegal in Nevada, but that is changing. Two weeks ago, the Nevada Wildlife Commission voted to start a bear hunt. The commission chairman says the licenses and fees will bring in cash to staff the wildlife department.

"If you want to support the bear population and protect the bear population, we need to have the staff and specialists to do that and therefore, we are having a bear hunt," Scott Raine said.

The hunt is for black bears. Despite their name, they are often brown.

The plan is creating a huge public outcry, especially around Lake Tahoe.

"Lake Tahoe is really the epicenter of this whole bear issue; it is where the bears are," No Bear Hunt Nevada spokesperson Chris Schwamberger said.

Tahoe's shore is divided between California and Nevada. California already allows bear hunting up to 1,700 bears a year. But the bear range is huge and hunters tend to go elsewhere.

"Very few hunters in California come into the Tahoe basin to hunt, it's too highly recreated, there's hikers, campers, bikers," Bear League spokesperson Ann Bryant said.

But in Nevada, most bears live in a small corner of the state right near Tahoe. Hunting will not be allowed in heavily populated areas and only 20 bears can be killed.

But Tahoe residents say people hike and camp all over the mountains there and even a small number of hunters could be dangerous.

That is one reason Nevada is requiring bear hunters take a class.

"We're going to do our best to educate hunters on places to go hunting where they can avoid any kind of confrontation with other users out there on the land," Department of Wildlife spokesperson Chris Healy said.

Ann Bryant runs the Bear League which helps Tahoe residents handle problem bears humanely. She believes hunting bears is cruel.

"The bear is chased by hounds up a tree and he's up a tree and he can't fly to another tree; he's sitting up there scared to death and pretty soon he is dead, they shoot him dead out of a tree; it's not a sport, it's disturbing, it's sick," Bryant said.

ABC7 asked the chairman of the Wildlife Commission, who is a hunter himself, about that.

"I don't even understand how someone could say that hunting is cruel, it's just a question that has no answer because it's not cruel," Scott Raine said.

Under Nevada's rules, only six females can be killed and not if they have cubs. But critics say it is hard to tell.

Then there is the nuisance issue. Tahoe already has a big problem with bears getting in people's garbage and houses. Nevada's wildlife biologist admits hunting will not get rid of those bears because they are too close to houses to shoot.

The Bear League believes hunting will actually make the problem worse.

"Hunting brings the bears down into the village where they are safe; if they are back up in the woods and there's a man hunting them back there, they are going to run where they know they are safe," Bryant said.

The Nevada Wildlife Department has lots of research on nuisance bears. It says it should be easy to tell if hunting creates more problems in urban areas.

"With that ongoing research we will certainly be able to find that out very quickly," Healy said.

As for whether the hunt will actually bring in money, even Healy is skeptical.

"This could end up costing us money, once the efforts of people like myself and the biologists and game wardens are taken into account," Healy said.

The hunt is scheduled to start at the end of August. In the meantime, animal activists may sue to challenge Nevada's scientific research and claim the commission ignored public opposition.

"Poll after poll shows the overwhelming majority of Nevada citizens are against the hunt," Schwamberger said.

The Nevada Wildlife Department says such a small hunt will not have an overall effect on the state's bear population. Critics disagree and hope the governor of Nevada may intervene

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

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