On Tribal Day—Feb. 11—a crowd of Native Americans from throughout California and Nevada gathered in Carson City on Monday morning to protest the hunting of black bears.
“We must stand up for bear nation because they have no voice,” said Raquel Arthur, of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, to the crowd of 50. “Bear nation” is a term used by tribe members to refer to the population of bears.
According to the Nevada Department of Wildlife, more than 20 bears have been killed since 2011, when bear hunting was approved. This year, a vote on S.B. 82 will determine the status of black bears—either as protected animals or game—in Nevada. The committee is headed by Nevada Sen. Aaron Ford (who is also sponsoring the Baker’s Bill; see Greenspace, left).
“Senate Bill 82 is sponsored by the 27 Native American tribes of Nevada,” says Kathryn Bicker, founder of NoBearHuntNV. “It is to have the black bear reclassified as a protected species.”
Bicker says NoBearHuntNV “supports the bill,” but for different reasons than the tribes.
“Many of the Native American reasons have to do with spiritual beliefs,” she says. “Our reasoning is that … if you look at the statutory language, it more closely fits ‘protected.’”
A petition filed in early February to prevent the use of hunting dogs to hunt bears was denied by the Nevada wildlife commission. The petition had gathered 11,000 signatures, and was created by five local animal advocacy groups including the Nevada Humane Society, the BEAR [Bear, Education, Aversion, Response] League and NoBearHuntNV.
Those who oppose bear hunting claim that it’s an activity with a harmful effect on local ecosystems because bear meat is not commonly eaten. Others also raised concerns that using hounds to hunt bears is dangerous for both animals. Hounds killed by bears, or by other dogs in the midst of a hunt, has been documented by the Humane Society.
But supporters say that, when done within reason, bear hunting helps control large-animal populations. There are an estimated 300 to 400 black bears in Nevada and California mountain ranges, which, according to the Nevada Department of Wildlife, justifies the “game status,” as black bears are classified. The Nevada Department of Wildlife website reads, “Nevada’s population of black bears is large enough to sustain a hunt. Even with a limited hunt, the black bear population is expected to continue growing.”
NoBearHuntNV hired scientists to conduct a study, and Bicker says the data did not support the NDOW claims.
“[They found] that the hunt is not sustainable and is done at great threat to the bear population,” Bicker says.
Last year, Senate Bill 1221 was passed in California by Gov. Jerry Brown, which made it illegal to hunt bears and bobcats with hunting dogs. Bear advocates hope that Gov. Brian Sandoval will follow suit. Bicker says that the bill is expected to be on the table in March.