Lack of DNA evidence wins reprieve for Tahoe bear and cub

Lack of DNA evidence wins reprieve for Tahoe bear and cub
Image: US Forest Service.

By Dana Gentry
This story was originally published by Nevada Current.

STATELINE–“Early in the morning today, a bear and her cub entered an open door on Tina Court. She awoke the resident by pawing at his leg as he slept,” said the email to residents last week from Janet Martell, manager of the Summit Village Homeowners Association. “Wildlife Services have set a trap at the dumpster area to capture this bear.”

The news set off a panic among bear lovers and activists who feared the incident would spark another slaughter of mother and baby, in accordance with the Nevada Division of Wildlife’s no-tolerance policy for bears who wander or force their way indoors.  

But the absence of evidence found at the Summit Village scene could mean the offenders will skate, at least for now. 

“We’ve caught multiple bears. We don’t know if any are the target bears,” NDOW Deputy Director Jack Robb, who says there was no available DNA evidence at the scene to connect the captured bruins to the crime. “All the bears that were caught will be released on site.”

“We took DNA from all the captured bears so we can match it up to any future events,” Robb said, adding the resident’s scratch from the bear bore no usable evidence “by the time we were alerted to the situation.”  

Robb says he’s unaware how many bears were captured. 

So-called ‘nuisance bears’ are common in Lake Tahoe, where black bears have roamed the basin for centuries — long before it was a popular enclave for tourists and toney homeowners.  They cower beneath cabins, prowl porches, and scavenge unsecured garbage in search of a meal.  

A trash-laden bear trap placed at Summit Village in Tahoe last week. (Photo courtesy Dr. Staci Baker)

Offenders are trapped by the Nevada Department of Wildlife and subjected to a variety of repellents, or even relocated to remote areas.  

But records provided by NDOW indicate bears and cubs who cross a threshold are generally “dispatched” — a euphemism for killed by the state.     

Between September 2011, when Nevada’s legal bear hunt began, and March of this year, hunters “harvested” 101 bears in Nevada. NDOW killed at least 59 more bears in the name of wildlife management during the same period, according to data provided by Nevada Department of Wildlife. 

“We have to be the bigger species,” says Dr. Staci Baker, a Tahoe veterinarian. “It’s hot up here.  The stench of garbage at Summit Village is overpowering. Bears will naturally be drawn to that.”  

Baker says simple fixes such as an ammonia-filled punch bowl, a “nail rail” placed on the floor of thresholds, or simply securing doors and garbage can prevent the needless slaughter of bears and cubs.   

“This mother bear and cub are known and loved by the Tahoe Douglas community. They have done no harm,” says bear activist Kathryn Bricker. She says the thought they would “be destroyed for simply living as bears is a crime against the innocent. Their curiosity and noses lead them.” 

“They (Summit Village) are a major offender who call for traps annually rather than use effective non lethal deterrents,” says Bricker. NDOW records indicate the state has trapped at least 26 bears in Summit Village during the last ten years.  

“That’s an awful lot of bears trapped,” said activist Carolyn Stark, who along with others has called for the trapping to be replaced by deterrents.

In December of 2017 a bear was “hazed out from under home on Tina Court,” according to NDOW records.  

On an unknown date, NDOW records say a bear identified as R32 “was inside 756 Tina Ct. caught in bedroom, smashed window,” and was “darted & removed then dispatched.”

Another bear was spotted at Summit Village with two cubs, according to the records, which say the mother was trapped and relocated without the cubs.   

The community declined to say what measures it’s taking to deter bears from scavenging and entering homes.   

“Let me be clear. We take care of our owners and their community,” Martell of Summit Village told the Current via phone. “We have their information and we’ll be providing more.”