Wildlife advocates called on the Nevada Department of Wildlife today to shut down the state’s bear hunt in units affected by or adjacent to the recent catastrophic wildfires that have wreaked havoc on Sierra Nevada communities.
Today’s letter to the department cites those fires and comes after heartbreaking photographs have emerged showing bears searching for food or water, injured by the fire.
Nevada’s annual bear hunt, which features packs of GPS-collared hounds chasing bears up trees, is scheduled to begin Sept. 15. Eight of the 10 hunt units where bear hunting is permitted are in areas that have burned or are still burning or are immediately adjacent to those areas.
“We need to give our bears a break,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Climate-fueled catastrophic fire isn’t just hard on us, it’s also hard on wildlife. Bears are struggling to survive and recover from the most difficult summer of their lives, and now they’re going to be chased by dogs and shot to death. It’s unacceptable.”
Bears are territorial animals. Forced migration due to wildfire can throw social dynamics into disarray, potentially causing cascading ecological effects in areas far from the fire’s border. Research has also found that wildfire can affect bear demographics, and in many cases can lead to near-zero survival for cubs.
“Our black bears are iconic animals, and at a time of dire need the fate of individual bears is just as important as the fate of the population,” said Don Molde of the Nevada Wildlife Alliance. “Now is not the time to add additional harassment to what they’ve already suffered.”
Wildfire smoke has affected life dramatically in northern Nevada in recent months. Unlike humans who have air conditioning and air filters and can drive away, bears and other wildlife are forced to suffer the effects of climate change and fire directly.
“I was able to evacuate and thankfully my home was saved. The bears aren’t so lucky,” said Tobi Tyler, a resident of Lake Tahoe. “It’s wrong to persecute these animals as they try to recover from this fire. The Sierra Nevada ecosystem needs a chance to breathe, not be exploited in a barbaric hunt.”
Today’s letter to the Department of Wildlife points out that the law gives both the department and the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners emergency powers to stop hunting in units where an emergency has been declared. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has declared both the Tamarack and Caldor Fires as emergencies.
In addition to huge wildfires, Nevada’s bears face other dire threats due to climate change. Record heat and drought place wildlife under significant stress and can cause direct mortality and reproductive failure.
“Not only should the bear hunt be suspended in fire-affected areas — the agency and commission need to take disasters into account when setting their quotas going forward,” said Jeff Dixon of the Humane Society of the United States. “For wildlife policy to be science-based, wildlife management professionals need to factor in global warming’s impact on ecosystems when setting those policies.”