Solutions sought for growing bear problem in Tahoe area

RENO — A new effort is building to require bear-proof trash containers at Lake Tahoe and other mountain communities along Nevada’s western mountain ranges.

The possibility of adopting tighter trash regulations in Incline Village and other bear-prone areas such as Verdi, Galena and Washoe Valley is scheduled to be discussed by the Washoe County Commission in August.

The Reno Gazette-Journal reported officials in Carson City and Douglas County are also being urged to get serious about cracking down on human behavior to ease problems with urban bears.

In 2012, the Nevada Department of Wildlife handled 237 bear complaints, an increase of 82 percent over the previous year.

While drought conditions contributed to the increase, many agree that removing temptations of easily accessible garbage that attracts bears must become a priority.

“It’s clearly something that has to be looked at,” said Washoe County Commissioner Marsha Berkbigler, who agreed to put the matter before the commission Aug. 13.

An unlikely alliance between the Nevada Wildlife Commission, which in 2010 authorized Nevada’s first black bear hunt, and the impassioned group that organized to fight the hunt, NoBearHuntNV, is pushing for action.

Controversy surrounding the hunt could have helped provide the impetus to make long-needed changes to protect bears by forcing people to handle the garbage that attracts them more responsibly, representatives from both groups say.

“It needs to be done. It’s the only thing that will resolve the problem,” said Kathryn Bricker, director of the no bear hunt organization. “What is needed is mandatory, bear-proof trash enclosures for both residents and businesses,” Bricker said. “It just simply has to be mandatory.”

Jack Robb, chairman of the Wildlife Commission, agreed.

“We need to address the problems that are getting the bears in trouble,” he told the newspaper. “A lot of our bear problems are not as much bear problems as they are human problems.”

Washoe and Douglas counties and Carson City have ordinances about trash and bears. They generally require animal-resistant trash containers to be purchased after repeated documented cases of bears or other critters raiding garbage receptacles.

But many people believe the laws are largely ineffective.

The strongest ordinance was adopted by the Incline Village General Improvement District after a record year for bear problems in 2007.

It also requires purchase of animal-resistant containers after repeated problems and comes with fines of up to $1,000 for violators. But critics say the ordinance is not enforced consistently.

Those pushing for strengthened regulations point to Aspen, Colo., which in 2010 adopted an ordinance requiring all residents to place garbage stored outside in animal-resistant containers. Three-time violators face a $999 fine and mandatory court appearance.

Aspen’s rules have been highly effective, supporters of local changes insist. In 2012, a drought year with heavy bear activity and more than 1,000 bear calls made to authorities, only two bears were euthanized within the city limits.

“The number of interactions between humans and bears was really low,” said Blair Weyer, community relations specialist with the Aspen Police Department. “We feel it’s been a success here.”