The culprit of a home invasion lies dead outside an Incline Village condominium, a .22 caliber bullet lodged deep in his skull. He is another victim of a changing world, and met his end with the taste of trash in his mouth and a tranquilizer full of high-powered sedatives coursing through his veins. He is a 3-year-old black bear named “Cloud” that was euthanized on May 17 by the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDoW) after becoming a threat to public safety.
A student leans out the second story of a Sierra Nevada College dorm window on Oct. 8, arm outstretched, looking for an animalistic connection. The bear, 300 pounds of muscle, fat and golden hair stands on its powerful legs to meet him. A gallery of students have gathered with iPhones at the ready to capture the magic moment, toss on a lens filter, and post it to their Instagram accounts.
The damage done
According to Chris Healy, a spokesperson for NDoW, moments like these can easily lead a bear to a similar fate as “Cloud.”
“What you’re doing is you’re creating a dangerous situation and somebody, maybe yourself or somebody else is gonna end up really having to pay for it, but it’s almost always the bear,” said Healy. “The last thing that any of our guys want to do is go out and kill a bear, but sometimes that happens.”
According to Healy, feeding a bear, touching it, or taking pictures with it are all interactions that contribute to the human habituation of the bear. Habituation refers to a bear becoming more comfortable in a populated area and losing its fear of humans. This leads to more break-ins, more sightings and possibly the death of the bear if it becomes a safety hazard.
Healy stated that NDoW has euthanized just under 100 bears since 1997, although this number represents less than 10 percent of total number of bears handled. NDoW has handled around 1,030 bears in Western Nevada since 1997. The department has been too busy to crunch the numbers for 2013, but in the month of October NDoW caught and released 14 bears using aversion conditioning techniques and euthanized one black bear, according to a NDoW press release.
After a few dry years, the natural food supply for black bears in the Tahoe area has dwindled and bears have been increasingly drawn to the high-energy food source of the Incline Village garbage supply. They are trying to pack on the pounds for winter and this has led to an aggressive search for calories.
Bears in dorm rooms
On Wednesday, Oct. 30, Freshman Jada Garcia returned to her room on Prim-Schultz Dorm’s first floor to find a large black bear rooting through the mini-fridge in her dorm room.
“All of our food was gone, our room smelt like a hamster cage. He was huge,” said Garcia.
It was not the smell of trash that lured the bear to Garcia’s dorm room, but the sweet smell of blackberries.
“I’m not used to bears, like we don’t have bear problems in Oregon, so I left blackberries by the window,” said Garcia. “I think he smelled it, opened the window and climbed in.”
Garcia locked the door to her room, and the bear eventually climbed out of the window and disappeared back into the bushes behind the dormitory.
Bears will continue to be an issue even into the winter season. According to Healy, the bears have adapted to modern times and adjusted their hibernation schedule around garbage day.
“We’ve proven it all throughout the Tahoe Basin. They wake up on garbage night, raid some garbage cans for a day or two and then go back to sleep for five days,” said Healy. “Then you have bears that aren’t losing as much weight as they should for the winter and you’re creating larger bears, they’re unnaturally large.”
Bears off campus
The large, human habituated bears have been affecting the lives of students on and off campus. A black bear broke into Sophomore Madison Johnson’s house in Incline Village on four separate occasions at the end of October, trashing her couch and eating everything that it could get its paws on. On the fourth visit it was chased off the property by Rommel, the house’s lovable Rottweiler guardian.
“Last week we had the same bear break into our house three times, three days in a row and rip open our freezer. He tried eating everything, and thank god the dog scared him away,” said Johnson.
According to Johnson, the bear only broke in when the dogs were gone and ran up into a tree when they returned. The bear eventually came down and stood face to face with Rommel, puffing itself up and trying to intimidate the young dog. Rommel stood his ground and the bear backed down and ran off into the woods.
What not to do
Other interactions with bears on campus have involved a slightly different approach to the situation. On Oct. 16 a freshman from Hawaii followed one of SNC’s ursine neighbors around campus, eventually getting close enough to pet the bear, feed it a crab apple, and even contemplate spanking the massive predator. The resident assistants in Prim-Shultz dormitory had given a talk at the beginning of the year about not touching or “spanking” the bears, but this only served to arouse the freshman’s curiosity.
“I got really close to it, and I was gonna spank it ya know? But every time I would go to spank it, it would turn around and look at me,” he said.
After he decided spanking the bear was a bad idea, the freshman stated that he grabbed a crab apple and fed it to the bear, which took his whole hand into its mouth. After liberating his hand from the bear’s slobbery jaws, he pet the bear, and gestured toward it with his hand “like you would with a dog.” The bear then ran up into the crab apple tree, where it stayed until the freshman and a few other students chased it off campus with some yelling and a broken slingshot.
Feeding the bears isn’t only ill-advised; it is illegal. Nevada Senate Bill 371 prohibits the feeding of any wild animal other than a wild bird. The consequences include a $250 fine for first offenders and a third offense can be punished by a misdemeanor and/or a $1,000 fine.
Sierra Nevada College reacts to the bears, attempts to educate students
One of the main problems at SNC has been the lack of bear-savvy students. Many students come from areas that are not affected by black bears, and they can make mistakes when dealing with them. The school administration has recognized the need for student education regarding bear etiquette. According to President Lynn Gillette, SNC has been doing a great job controlling the trash output and locking up bear proof garbage and recycling containers each night, but it needs to do a better job of educating incoming students.
“Some of our students almost see the bears as a pet, and there are two things there. No. 1, a student could get hurt. No. 2, we know the end game for the bears. If the bears end up getting habituated to coming around here for food, bottom line the bear’s going to ultimately get put down and we don’t want to do that,” said Gillette. “Frankly we can do a better job of educating our freshman students, especially.”
To do this, SNC has posted numerous fliers around campus reminding students to keep their doors and windows locked at all times as well as sending out a school wide email citing numerous tips for bear safety with a link to Incline Village General Improvement District’s (IVGID’s) bear awareness page.
Lizzie Thibodeau, director of Student Affairs and Housing, has been in correspondence with Abbie Lindeberg, an IVGID Waste Not outreach coordinator, to organize a presentation educating students on bear safety. The talk is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 6, during dinner in the Patterson dining hall.
The presentation was expected to cover the many ways that students can minimize the risk of bears breaking into cars or campus buildings. As far as direct contact goes, the proper way to deal with bears is actually very simple. Healy has an easy to remember rule of thumb regarding bear interaction.
“You shouldn’t be interacting with the bears at all,” said Healy. “If you’re going to enjoy the bears, you enjoy them from afar.”
Be Bear Smart!
Bear Incidents on College Campuses in 2013
• California Polytechnic University, San Luis Opispo, Calif.: A 200-pound, 3-year-old bear keeps returning to campus, and adjoining student apartments, this fall. It was hit by a tranquilizer dart in September and fled to the woods, but showed up again on campus in October. Source: The San Luis Obispo Tribune
• Bluefield College, Bluefield, Va: A bear, standing four-feet high on all fours, wandered through the campus in May. It walked by the dorms about 8:15 p.m., but being late May, not many students were still on campus. Source: Bluefield Daily Telegraph
• Evergreen State College, Olympia, Wash.: Authorities alerted students on Oct. 7 about a large black bear that kept walking through areas of campus near the woods. Campus officials were trying to warn students not to feed or approach the bear. Source: The Olympians
• Maryville College, Maryville, Tenn.: A black bear walked up to the door of a dormitory in early October, scaring students inside. Besides hoping to get another glimpse of the bear to take photos and videos, students were joking that the bear fled the Great Smokey Mountains National Park during the government shutdown. Source: Local 8 Now TV, Knoxville, Tenn.
• Duke University, Durham, North Carolina: A young bear was spotted on campus twice in one week in July, without causing too much alarm. Source: Duke Today
• Adams State University, Alamosa, Colo.: A mother and her cub was spotted on campus next to the Business building in September, attracting onlookers and the a district wildlife manager to monitor the situation. Bears tend to visit while traveling next to the Rio Grande River. Source: The Paw Print
• University of Montana, Missoula, Mo.: A black bear was spotted in a tree on campus in September, but escaped before wildlife officials arrived with a tranquilizing dart. It was captured a few days later after approaching a playground in the university’s family housing. Source: The Billings Gazette
• Princeton University, Princeton, NJ: A black bear was spotted walking through campus about 2:30 a.m. but didn’t come near anyone. Source: Planet Princeton