Bear deaths on rise at Lake Tahoe

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. -- Mortality rates continue to increase for bears living in the Lake Tahoe area, where 32 bears have died around the lake and the Carson front this year.

All of the deaths were caused by human, said Carl Lackey, a wildlife biologist for the Nevada Department of Agriculture.

Twenty two were hit by cars and 10 had to be killed for eating domestic livestock or entering buildings, he said.

Between 200 and 300 black bears now live in the area. Since 1997, 112 bears have died there -- an average of more than 12 a year. More than half of those were due to collisions with vehicles, Lackey said.

Wild bears tend to have two cubs while those in urban areas have three, but two of three urban cubs are killed by cars in the first year of life, Lackey said.

Bears acclimated to urban life inhabit much smaller territories, between three and four square miles, when compared to their wild counterparts who often inhabit 25 to 75 square miles.

Hibernation for urban bears can be several weeks shorter if they hibernate at all and a predominance of male bears inhabit the urban areas.

The future is bleak for the animals, due primarily to development at the urban-wildland interface and the garbage that's left unprotected, Lackey said.

Their historic range extended throughout Nevada, but has been reduced to the Pine Nut mountains, remote areas of the Carson Range and in the Wassuks, a range near Hawthorne.

Their numbers shrank dramatically about 100 years ago and viable populations have been reduced to rare sightings, Lackey said.

He said population here could be saved if people would safely contain their garbage. The bears of Yellowstone National Park, who mingled casually with the tourists on any given day in the 1960s and '70s, are a prime example.

"A federal law was put in place. No more trash was left out and overnight, that problem was solved," Lackey said.


Information from: Tahoe Daily Tribune,