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Bears, beleaguered by fires and drought, face hunters


by Dana Gentry, Nevada Current
September 8, 2021

Nevada’s black bears, driven by drought, fire, and smoke from their habitats in the high country around Lake Tahoe, are about to face another existential threat — hunters.  

The state’s season for hunting bears begins Sept. 15, but environmental organizations and animal activists are asking the governor and wildlife officials to call off the hunt for this year in the majority of designated zones. 

“We are in a new era of wildlife management, where we have to directly consider the impacts ofclimate chaos on the management of our wildlife,” says a letter from the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club – Toiyabe Chapter, the Humane Society of the United States, Animal Wellness Action, No Bear Hunt NV, Nevada Wildlife Alliance, and Bear Defenders.

Two “massive conflagrations” less than eight miles apart have “profoundly affected the ecology and wildlife of the central Sierra Nevada,” says the letter, which was sent to wildlife officials Wednesday morning.  

The Tamarack fire, declared an emergency by Gov. Steve Sisolak in late July, and the Caldor fire, which is still burning out of control and has consumed more than 218,000 acres, “form a nearly contiguous belt of burned terrain almost all the way across the Sierra Nevada,” according to the letter. 

“Wildlife which lived within areas now burned would have fled as the fire approached, and while some likely perished, some would be pushed to outside the boundaries of the fire, into foreign terrain and other animals’ territories,” the letter says, warning of the effects of the forced migration. 

“And with no refuge from the smoke and ash, these fires cause impacts to animal physiology and behavior far beyond the fire perimeters,” the letter says, similar to the effects one would see from humans forced to breathe heavy smoke, “decreased lung function, increased risk of heart illness, etc.”

Nevada’s bear hunt began in 2011. Since then, hunters have “harvested” 101 bears for sport. State records indicate more have been euthanized in that time by the state as a management protocol for so-called problem bears that enter homes, often through unlocked doors, in search of food. 

“The state should call it off,” says Bob Fulkerson, founder and development director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, who tweeted as much to Gov. Steve Sisolak on Tuesday.  

Fulkerson says he’s been camping in the Carson Range for four decades and has “never seen the plants and wildlife under this much stress. … The last thing those bears need are dogs fitted with GPS chasing them to exhaustion or until they tree to await being shot like a fish in a barrel.”

The Wildlife Commission has the authority to change the dates or areas of the hunt. 

“I’m not aware of any recommendation being brought by the department,” commission chairwoman Tiffany East said via email.

The Department of Wildlife director also has the statutory authority to act “In cases of emergency, with the approval of the Governor,” until the commission meets. 

“At this point, ending the bear hunt due to habitat loss is counter to the wildlife management science on carrying capacity,” NDOW director Tony Wasley said in an email. “The reality is that sometimes, reducing population numbers can improve habitat conditions and subsequently improve animal health which results in increased survival.  Removing or killing 100, may allow for the survival of hundreds and hundreds more.  It is population management, not the saving of individuals.”

Wasley says “sudden and drastic decreases in available habitat” have predictable consequences for the displaced animals as well as those who “fight to establish territories and find food.”

“As counter intuitive as it is for some people to understand, the Department has implemented multiple emergency doe hunts for mule deer and pronghorn with the objective of keeping animal populations in sync with the capacity of the land to provide for them,” Wasley said. “We will not be recommending an emergency bear hunt and similarly we have no plans to recommend a season closure due to wildfire and drought either.”

Sisolak did not respond to requests for comment.  

Ann Bryant, co-founder of California’s BEAR League, says many of the bears have been “running for their lives” and are “confused, displaced and completely out of energy… weakened and already terrorized beyond comprehension.”

A Tahoe bear whose paws had been so badly burned it was unable to move, according to California wildlife officials, was shot and killed to prevent it from being burned alive, the San Francisco Chronicle reported last week.  

“Given the habitat destruction and displacement the bears are experiencing due to the fires, to now also chase them with packs of hounds to then be shot in a recreational hunt is cruel beyond measure,” says Kathryn Bricker, executive director of No Bear Hunt NV. “Have we no moral compass?”  

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: [email protected]. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

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