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Lake Tahoe residents seek to halt bear hunt in court

June 12, 2011 |  1:46 pm

BEAR bottleChad LundquistNevada Appeal via AP
Lake Tahoe residents have sued the Nevada wildlife commission to halt the state's first bear hunt. They worry that with hunters and hikers sharing the same woods along the lake's popular trails, it won't be only bears that get shot.

“Someone could be out hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail with their family and along comes a pack of dogs running across the trail, followed by a guy who comes along with a gun,” said Madonna Dunbar, resource conservationist for the Incline Village General Improvement District on the lake's north shore. “People are really concerned there will be an accident and someone will get killed.” 

State wildlife officials have issued 45 licenses and say hunters will be trained so they know where it is safe to shoot.

The  lawsuit was filed in Carson City District Court last week by  to block the
bear hunting season scheduled to run Aug. 20 to Dec. 31. Although 45 licenses were issued, the total harvest is limited to 20 bears, only six of which can be female. Hunters can use dogs, but are prohibited from using bait. It also is illegal to kill a sow accompanied by a cub or to kill a cub.

The lawsuit alleges state wildlife commissioners adopted the hunt's regulations illegally because they failed to provide proper public notice or examine the potential negative impact on the local tourism-based economy. It also raises concerns about safety in an area popular for downhill and cross-country skiing in the winter, and hiking and mountain biking most of the rest of the year.

Bryan L. Stockton, the senior deputy state attorney general representing the Nevada Department
of Wildlife in the case, said his office intends to “defend the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners against the claims made by No Bear Hunt.” Stockton noted that the Nevada Department of Wildlife requires hunters to receive training before they can try to bag a bear.

BEAR TAHOE rich pedroncelli AP
Department spokesman Chris Healy said the mandatory educational session is set for Aug. 6 for all bear tag holders who will be schooled by game wardens and wildlife biologists. “It's a first-time hunt, so we are trying to make sure they understand where they can hunt and can't hunt,” Healy said.

The state agency is working with Incline Village and other jurisdictions to develop maps outlining legally established “congested areas” where firearm use is prohibited at all times, regardless of a hunting season. At a minimum, those areas typically extend as far away from any building as it can be seen, but
bigger buffers are in place in more populated areas — including most residential and recreational areas around Lake Tahoe.

That's especially true at Incline Village, where officials are worried hunting could take place within a half-mile of some mountain homes and within a few thousand feet of the Diamond Peak ski resort.

“That's a big summer hiking area as well as winter skiing,” Dunbar said. “Our recreationists are not used to dealing with a hunting season.  NDOW is trying to do a good job educating hunters about where they can hunt or can't hunt. But it is one thing to look at a map. It's another thing to be in the field,” she said.

The Washoe County sheriff's office is prepared to provide enforcement support if needed when the season opens but doesn't expect any trouble, Assistant Sheriff Marshall Emerson said.

“Typically, if sportsmen are in the draw for a certain area they generally are aware of the congested areas and avoid them,” Emerson said. “They are going out there to enjoy the outdoors and they don't want any run-ins with game wardens or anybody else.”

David Piccinini, whose family has owned the Mark Fore & Strike Sporting Goods since it opened in Reno in 1962, is among the 45 who received a tag for the inaugural bear season. He doesn't expect many if any hunters to wander into the congested areas. “I would say the evolution of our sport the last 15 years is such that people do quite a bit more scouting than they used to,” he said.

Healy, of the wildlife department, said the bear hunt will use the same boundaries and general hunting laws that apply to deer, mountain lions and all other species. He said hunts have gone on for years for those other animals for years around Incline Village.

But Dunbar responded that “Hunting for bears is different from deer and mountain lions and grouse. Honestly, we don't see those other animals. We see bears all the time,” she said. “We live in Incline Village because we like living in the woods. We like seeing animals. People spend money to come here to see animals.”


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--Scott Sonner/AP

Top photo: A black bear drinks from a plastic soda bottle near South Lake Tahoe, Calif. Credit: AP Photo/Nevada Appeal, Chad Lundquist

Bottom photo: A black bear hunts for fish in Taylor Creek near South Lake Tahoe, Calif.The bear and two cubs wandered the creek in search of Kokanee salmon. As black bear populations across North America expand, so too are incidents of human-bear conflicts. Lake Tahoe residents have filed suit to stop Nevada's first bear hunt, which, they say, could pose a safety hazard to hikers and mountain bikers.Credit: Rich Pedroncelli/AP