This opinion column was submitted by RGJ columnist Sheila Leslie, who served in the Nevada Legislature from 1998 to 2012.
If ever there were a time to re-evaluate the decision to allow trophy bear hunting in Nevada, it’s this year. Our unprecedented wildfire season has decimated prime bear habitat, leaving dehydrated and thirsty bears homeless, no doubt traumatized by the extreme heat and smoke and utterly confused by the loss of their territory. The photos of bears wandering the streets of South Lake Tahoe during the mandatory evacuation searching for food, water and a safe place to sleep were heartbreaking.
Nevada’s annual hunting of the bears has been controversial from the start. The Nevada Department of Wildlife authorized the hunt in 2011 purely for recreational purposes and not as a management tool to control the population. Hunters dismissed the objections from wildlife conservationists as ignorant urban Nevadans not understanding or caring about the sacred rural tradition of tramping through the mountains in search of animals to kill — or as they say, wildlife to “harvest.”
Hunting the bears for sport in Nevada is not popular outside of rural hunting enclaves, especially hunting with the aid of specially trained dogs, or “hounds” as hunters prefer to call them, which the majority of states with bear hunts do not permit. Nevada allows hunters to use the GPS signal on a dog collar to lead them to a cornered bear for an easy kill. Not much of a challenge for the hunter who scores his bear trophy, but an agonizing and horrible death for the bear, exhausted after trying to evade the hounds on a long chase. Many, including me, find this practice barbaric; but the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners and their supporters, most of whom are hunters themselves, dismiss the objections as trivial criticism from city dwellers who are far too sentimental about bears.