State Funding Sought For Problem Bears
Posted: Sun Mar 02, 2008 10:58 am
Nevada wildlife officials plan to ask the Legislature for more money after a year of record-numbers of problems with nuisance bears.
What has developed into a consistent challenge in recent years demands a fiscal commitment from the state, said top officers from the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
"Ultimately, we need the dollars," said Russ Mason, state game division chief. "We need a stable funding source."
The number of so-called "urban bears" raiding trash cans and breaking into homes has increased steadily, particularly at Lake Tahoe, in the past decade, said Carl Lackey, a state wildlife biologist and bear expert.
Last year was the worst across the Reno-Tahoe region, with wildlife officials responding to up to 1,500 calls involving 120 different bears, Lackey said.
Drought conditions dried up the berry bushes that black bears normally depend upon for food, and this was largely responsible for the deluge of bear conflicts in 2007. What is shaping up to be a much wetter 2008 should reduce the scope of the problem during the coming spring, summer and fall, Mason said.
But regardless of climatic influences, garbage-raiding bears are posing a chronic and persistent challenge that costs the department of wildlife about $150,000 per year.
That money is being funneled from other wildlife programs such as habitat restoration and efforts benefitting Nevada's mule deer, elk, pronghorn and sage grouse, among others, Mason said. Those funds come from hunting license fees and federal support that really shouldn't be spent to combat nuisance bears, he said.
"We are using funds that would probably be more appropriately spent in other areas," Mason said. "We really don't have a clear source of funding to support that (bear) program."
No specific legislative proposal has been prepared but the department will likely pursue a bill, probably in cooperation with Washoe and Douglas counties and Carson City, local jurisdictions where nuisance bears pose the greatest danger, Mason said.
"We do intend to go forward with this," he said.
Area lawmakers contacted agreed the growing problem of nuisance bears and the funding needed to deal with them needs exploration.
"I think we should find some way to help them out," Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno, said.
With growth and development constantly pushing new homes farther into wildlife habitat, greater conflicts with bears and other wildlife result, Bobzien said.
"Is it fair to keep sportsmen on the hook for that increased workload? I don't think it is," Bobzien said. "It's certainly something we're going to have to talk about."
State Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, said "it doesn't make any sense" not to have a stable funding source to deal with a problem that is clearly worsening.
"I think we need to get behind them," he said.
Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, who owned a horse that was killed by a bear last summer, said the state's financial difficulties could make for an "uphill battle" in funding the bear program.
"I think it's a discussion we need to have," Settelmeyer said.
Settelmeyer said he doesn't expect problems associated with bears and humans to ease significantly in the years ahead.
"We're seeing a lot more bears in that urban interface," Settelmeyer said. "We have far more than the habitat can support on its own."