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May 29, 2024 3:11 am

Local News

Regulators approve killing twice as many bears as originally allowed in Nevada hunt

Black bear in Lake Tahoe Basin (Credit: California Fish and Wildlife Department)

Dana Gentry, Nevada Current
May 6, 2024

The Nevada Wildlife Commission voted Saturday to allow hunters to kill 42 bears a year, more than twice the number permitted to be slaughtered in the first decade of the hunt, which began in 2011. 

The move is the latest in a series of decisions that have prompted criticism of the commission for failing to represent the interests of a plurality of Nevadans, who prefer to coexist peacefully with animals, according to studies, including the Nevada Department of Wildlife’s own survey.  

Advocates for allowing more bears to be killed note the population has not declined since the inception of the hunt. But critics complain no one knows how many bears are in Nevada. 

NDOW estimates the black bear population in Nevada at between 239 and 740 with 95% confidence, and growing at a rate of 5% annually. 

“That’s a real wide gap of confidence when we’re trying to estimate the population,” said Commissioner David McNinch, the lone member of the board charged with representing conservationists, who took issue with NDOW using 700 bears, the high end of the range, in its calculation for increasing the quota. “Not sure why we wouldn’t equally land on 240.”  

“A 95% confidence level that varies by several hundred animals means you have no confidence level at all,” Dr. Donald Molde of the Nevada Wildlife Alliance said via email. ”Pick a number.”

Molde says estimating populations of any species is not easy. “That means to me they must be conservative in their choice of numbers.”

The mortality rate under the new hunting regulation is projected at 1.9% to 2.7% of the population. NDOW biologists say up to 14% of the population could be killed each year without compromising the species. 

Fred Voltz of the Nevada Wildlife Alliance told commissioners the “selective information” presented by NDOW raises “more questions instead of providing complete answers regarding wildly fluctuating bear population guesstimates.” 

Voltz noted that NDOW reported 74 bear deaths from all sources in 2021 and 71 in 2022, when 20 bears could be killed by hunters. Yet the department’s report justifying the increased hunting quota failed to include sources of mortality other than the hunt. 

“These numbers don’t reflect bears that are orphaned and killed by other species, hit by cars and die in the woods. and other sources” not counted by NDOW, Voltz told the commission. 

‘How many times…’ 

NDOW, which is entrusted with conservation of the state’s wildlife, says it manages species, not individual animals.  

“Is it fair to think of animals only as part of a larger population, not as an individual whose suffering is very real?” Cathy Smith of No Bear Kill Nevada asked commissioners during public comment. “I think not, and I  think most of you know that animals suffer, and humans can and do increase that suffering.”

The new regulation limits hunters to killing no more than 14 females, one-third of the quota, each season. Last year, almost half of the bears killed – nine of 19 – were female, including one that was still lactating and another with young cubs. 

Hunters have defended the practice of hounding – using dogs to chase bears up a tree – as a means of determining gender before the kill. 

McNinch, referring to the almost 50/50 gender split among hunted bears last year, called the notion that hounding spares females from being killed “malarkey.” 

Only 13% of Nevadans condone hounding, according to NDOW’s own survey. 

“How many times will you have to listen to members of the public like myself before you take us  seriously?” No Bear Hunt Nevada’s Kathryn Bricker asked commissioners.

Bricker recalled a video posted to social media by a houndsman of “his hounds at the base of a tree in the Mt. Rose forest. A two-year-old female was looking down. The look on her face, and her vocalizations of sheer terror will haunt me until I die. She was not even old enough to have had cubs of her own. I and others only pray that she was dead when she hit the ground and not still alive to be mauled by the dogs.” 

Hunters speaking in favor of increasing the bear hunt quota asked the commission to eliminate restrictions on killing female bears. 

“Do we even need hounds at that point?” asked Commissioner Alana Wise, the only member of the board charged with representing the public. “Can we eliminate them?”

The unpopular method, which is illegal in California, has spawned a growth industry in Nevada of guides and houndsman, who are paid thousands of dollars to lead tag winners on their quest. 

The commission quickly moved to approve the amendment as drafted, keeping intact the limit on killing females and the ability to hound. 

‘Brain dead’

During the meeting, McNinch told his colleagues of a number of incidents, primarily in Northern Nevada, that prompted calls from irate residents. 

In one instance a deer was snared in a legally set trap. In another, a person shot a deer with a bow and arrow in a residential neighborhood. 

“Apparently it was not the first one,” he said of the illegal shooting. 

McNinch went on to describe an incident in which a Wyoming man intentionally ran over a wolf in that state with a snowmobile, then tortured the animal before shooting it. 

Animal advocates see little distinction between the suffering of the wolf, the two-year old bear chased up a tree to her death, or a deer ensnared for days in a trap. 

“These are the types of things that happen when we don’t tend to our business – when we don’t have strong laws that say these activities are not condoned, but they’re condemned, and we’re going to do something about it,” McNinch told his colleagues. “We’re primed for those same things happening in Nevada.”

Tommy Caviglia, the commission chairman, called the perpetrator of the wolf incident “brain dead.” Caviglia supports the increase in the bear hunt quota and has repeatedly defended coyote killing contests, in which prizes are awarded for racking up the most dead coyotes.

McNinch, the only commissioner to vote against allowing more bears to be killed and an opponent of killing contests, says he’s at a loss to describe his colleagues’ embrace of what critics call wanton killing. 

“You’d have to ask them,” he said during an interview. “I’m struggling with this more and more. I don’t understand the commitment to that mind set.” 

Caviglia did not respond to requests for comment.

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This article is republished from Nevada Current under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.