Why are people-to-people encounters on the rise in northern Nevada

Eugene Garcia / AP

An orphaned bear cub struggles to survive as it walks alone along a mountain road affected by the Dixie fire in Plumas County, Calif., Sunday, August 15, 2021.

Encounters with black bears in northern Nevada neighborhoods and on roads have increased dramatically in recent months, with a summer of historic wildfires near Lake Tahoe likely to be blamed, the Nevada Department of Wildlife said.
As of September 27, a total of 23 black bears have been killed by cars this year in Nevada, including 16 just last month, said Ashley Sanchez, a spokesperson for the agency. She said bears and other wildlife living around the basin were displaced by the Dixie, Caldor and Tamarack wildfires raging near the Nevada border in northern California.
With black bears eating more in anticipation of hibernation, there has been a spike in bear reports in Douglas, Lyon, Washoe and Mineral counties and Carson City.
“The big problem that we are seeing right now is that their habitat is burning, the bear population is increasing and they are moving to neighborhoods because they are opportunistic and they are motivated by food,” Sanchez said.
“We just made this buffet for the bears. There are fruit trees, garbage, and all kinds of other attractants that humans leave out.
Nevada is home to around 400 to 700 bears at any given time, Sanchez said. The number fluctuates as animals move in and out of neighboring California and Oregon, she said.
But when the bears are in Nevada, their range stretches from northwest Reno to Lake Walker, about 100 miles to the southeast.
There are several steps people can take to discourage bears from coming, Sanchez said. Among them: putting garbage in bear-resistant bins, picking fruit from trees, not leaving food in cars and using electric fences.
The bears could return if they find food, which can lead to human encounters and the killing of pest bears, Sanchez said. And whether a bear is digging through trash or eating fruit that has fallen from a tree in someone’s backyard, any bear sightings in a city or neighborhood should be reported to state wildlife officials.
Wildlife officers also trap bears in populated areas and release them into the wild. Upon release, bears are sometimes shot with rubber bullets and chased by Karelian bear dogs to encourage them to stay away using a technique called aversive conditioning.
“Our goal is to give him an unpleasant experience so that he doesn’t feel comfortable coming back to a neighborhood,” Sanchez said.
Bear sightings should be reported to the Wildlife Ministry, Sanchez said.
“It’s up to all of us to keep bears wild,” she said.
Aversive conditioning, however, should not be confused with the state’s annual black bear hunt, which takes place this year from Sept. 15 to Dec. 1, Sanchez said. The state sanctions an annual hunt of up to 20 animals. Hunters kill an average of 14 bears per year in Nevada.
Patrick Donnelly, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said it was “disgusting” that the hunt was allowed to continue this year. It should have been hung up to give the bears a respite from the worst wildfire summer in modern history, he said.
“They’re on the verge of what we can only assume to be their tolerance for these types of conditions,” Donnelly said. “We all live in air conditioning and swamp coolers. You know we have ways to escape, but bears have nowhere to go.
The Center for Biological Diversity was one of eight organizations that co-wrote a September 8 letter to state wildlife director Tony Wasley and Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners chair Tiffany East requesting to suspend black bear hunting.
The bears may have suffered from being exposed to the smoke and ash, which could have a drastic impact on future generations of cubs, they said in a letter to wildlife officials.
Sanchez said hunting “may actually ease the increased competition for habitat” and that more bears have been killed by motor vehicles than hunters.
Every hunter is required to complete a training course before receiving a tag and must contact the wildlife department before harvesting a bear, Sanchez said. She added that while conditions for bears may not be ideal at the moment, part of the Wildlife Department’s mission was to ensure that the overall bear population remains robust in the state. .
Donnelly, however, called the hunt more of a “moral issue” than a management situation. Hunting bears “with dogs in the trees and shooting them like fish in a barrel is immoral.” It’s wrong.”
“Wildlife management in the state of Nevada exists to prioritize hunting,” he said. “We’re not at a point where that can be the priority anymore. Our priority right now must be climate adaptation and wildlife resilience.

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