CARSON CITY — It’s been a veritable Country Bear Jamboree in western Nevada this fall and Wednesday was no different for local law enforcement and Nevada Division of Wildlife personnel.
Carl Lackey, a black bear biologist with the wildlife agency, had a 350-pound male bear in a cage on a trailer behind his truck, ready for release in the mountains west of the capital.
But before he could make the trip up toward Lake Tahoe, another call came in about a bear on the prowl in western Carson City. So the bear release had to wait while Lackey and other agency employees, along with local sheriff’s deputies, worked to corral the new intruder who had feasted on spaghetti and scalloped potatoes out of a neighborhood garbage can.
Lackey hit the bear, another large male, with a tranquilizer dart before it climbed high up a tree behind a house on Mountain Street, just a few homes away from the Governor’s Mansion.
Lackey did not want to shoot the bear a second time with it so high in the tree, so he and others shot pepper spray paintballs near him until he decided to climb back down. He was then hit with another dart and was soon passed out in the yard.
Ann Erwin, who lived next door to the home where the bear was caught, said she has not seen such ursine activity in her 28 years as a resident.
After hauling the bear on a canvas out to the street, Lackey tagged the animal and tattooed identification on its gums. After Lackey drew some blood and performed other tasks, the bear was hauled off to a site in town where another cage awaited the temporary visitor to the capital.
Then it was off to the mountains to release a bear caught Tuesday in nearly the same neighborhood eating apples from a backyard tree.
The bear, which had taken a bit of a tumble out of a tree the day before, took his time emerging from his cage. But he took off like a shot when Lackey’s dog, a Karelian bear dog by the name of Rooster, chased him up a nearby tree.
He was urged along with rubber buckshot fired by Wildlife employee Jake Kreamer.
Lackey said the negative reinforcement is intended to get the bear to think twice before heading back into Carson or another community to forage on fruit trees, bird seed or garbage.
Two dry years have reduced the food supply in the mountains, causing the bears to head down for easy pickings, he said.
That last bad bear year for western Nevada was 2007. The heightened activity lasts until December when they go into hibernation.
Bears need to consume as much as 25,000 calories a day this time of year, up from 3,000 a day at other times of the year. Normally they eat a variety of berries and pine nuts to get those calories, along with a multitude of other food sources, but the dry years have limited those options.
It is important for the bears to learn to avoid humans, Lackey said. If a bear becomes troublesome and continues to come into a community like Carson City, it will be put down after three such return visits, he said.
Bears that break into homes will be put down right away, as long as the perpetrator can be firmly identified, Lackey said.
“But our experience shows that when we catch the bear when they are first coming into these areas and give them the aversive conditioning, we generally alter that behavior,” Lackey said. “We call this putting them on the mountain of reflection. Letting them think about their behavior a little bit.”
The bear visits into Carson City are coming as a controversial hunting season continues for the animals in the Nevada portion of the Sierra Nevada. The season lasts through Dec. 31 and the quota is 20 bears. It is the third year bear hunting has been allowed.
The hunt is not of a size that would seriously reduce the bear population, Lackey said.
Several animal rights groups have vociferously opposed the hunt and sought unsuccessfully to end it in the 2013 session of the Legislature.
About 250 bears are estimated to live in the Nevada section of the Sierra.
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3900. Follow him on Twitter @seanw801.