“The citizens of Nevada want non-lethal bear management, I repeat, non-lethal,” said Christine Schwamberger, a lobbyist for Nevada Political Access for Animals. “Hunting is not the only wildlife management tool.”
She presented SB82, which identifies the black bear as a protected mammal and bars the state Wildlife Commission from authorizing hunts of the animal.
Advocates for the measure contend that there is not a need for bear hunts in Nevada, nor is the population of black bears large enough to support a hunt without crippling the species footprint in the Silver State.
“If we had enough bears to sustain a hunt, all the hunts would be to the quota, but that has not happened,” said Raquel Arthur, representing the Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe.
Opponents also expressed concern with the Nevada Department of Wildlife’s decision to authorize the hunts in 2011 after they were prohibited for 82 years. They said the commission that oversees the bear hunts was catering to an elite group of sportsmen and ignoring overwhelming public opposition to the hunts and concerns of the bears’ population if the hunts are continued.
According to the Department of Wildlife, 25 bears have been killed in Nevada since the first bear hunt two years ago. The law allows for up to 20 of the bears in western Nevada to be killed per season. State wildlife biologists have said the state’s bear population is growing at a rate of about 16 percent annually and can support a limited hunt.
But the perceived lack of scientific certainty about the bears’ viability and public opinion were not the only complaint of many hunting opponents. A large portion of the opposition came from Native Americans who traveled to Carson City to protect their heritage and culture, which includes the bear as a central figure, Arthur said.
“I want our ceremonies preserved and not given as a handout to a trophy hunter,” she told the committee.
A significant portion of the hunting areas in Western Nevada are near Indian reservations, so there is also concern for the safety of Native Americans who may be gathering during the hunting season and for the sovereignty of Indian lands, Arthur said.
Proponents of the bear hunts said many of the claims of anti-hunt activists were fabricated or not the whole truth, and that the rights of some should not be neglected for the sake of others.
Ryan Warner, speaking only for himself as a member of the public, told committee members to keep the number of bears killed in perspective, and to deal in absolutes, rather than possible adversities.
“There have been no facts of injury to humans or selling of bear parts on the black market in Nevada,” he told committee members. He added, “The number of bears killed in bear hunting is inconsequential to the number of bears killed each year by car collisions in the Tahoe Basin area.”
The population numbers are a bit deceptive, as are the claims of immense public opposition, said Bob Brunner, who has researched the issue.
“Less than 100 Nevadans opposed the first hunt, but more than 2,900 people paid to apply for a bear tag,” Brunner said, referencing data from the overseeing commission. “Estimates put the Nevada bear population somewhere between 400 to 700, but this is part of a continuous population of over 15,000 in the Sierra Nevadas that moves around.”
Another supporter of the bear hunts — a Native American — said the cultural issues were not universal to all Indians.
“Native Americans’ religions and beliefs are as diverse as there are leaves on the tree,” Larry Johnson, a businessman and Nevada sportsman, told committee members.
After reading several examples of Sierra Nevada Indian tribes who had traditions of hunting the bear, he continued, “Trophy hunting has been put in a negative light, but don’t you think our people danced around the campfire when they killed a bear?”