“It’s the same black bears on either side of the California and Nevada state line and there is no biological difference associated with this political boundary,” said Ted Koch, Nevada state supervisor for the federal agency.
“Therefore the bears on the Nevada side do not warrant treatment as a separate species under the ESA.”
Most of Nevada’s black bears are found in the Carson Range and eastern Sierra in and around Lake Tahoe. The Fish and Wildlife Service said the same species of American black bear is found in California and in the Cascade Range of northern California and southern Oregon.
The finding comes in response to a petition filed in September by two wildlife groups, NoBearHuntNV.org and Oregon-based Big Wildlife, which opposed establishing a bear hunting season in Nevada. Fourteen bears were killed in the state’s inaugural hunt last year.
Kathryn Bricker, with the Nevada anti-bear hunting group, said the determination by the Fish and Wildlife Service did not address their concern that biologists lacked data to make an adequate determination on the health of and threats to so-called “sky island” bear populations scattered in the Pine Nut, Sweetwater and Wassuk ranges of western Nevada.
“There is no data to support what population of bears exists in those areas,” Bricker said. “We didn’t claim that the Sierra Nevada bears were a distinct biological species.”
Bricker argued that loss of habitat because of fires, the dry desert terrain and other pressures on the animals need to be documented before a determination is made on whether those animals are threatened.
Bricker pointed to Florida, where for years the black bear was on the state’s threatened species list because of a sharp drop in population caused by hunting and development. In June, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission ended the decades-old protections for the bruin, a subspecies of the American black bear. Hunting bears in Florida is still prohibited, though the penalty for violations was relaxed from a felony to a misdemeanor.
The Nevada Department of Wildlife estimates 450 black bears are found in a large area along the eastern edge of the Sierra from Reno south to Topaz on the California-Nevada line. The area includes the Tahoe Basin, as well as the Virginia Range, the Carson Valley in Douglas County, the Truckee Meadows and western half of the Pine Nut Mountains.
State biologists estimate another 200 to 300 bears live in the backcountry of the eastern Pine Nuts, the Pine Groves and the Sweetwater Mountains.
Opponents of Nevada’s bear hunt were especially critical of allowing hunting around Tahoe. Of the 14 bears killed in 2011, none were taken from the Tahoe Basin.
For 2012, wildlife officials agreed to make the Nevada side of Tahoe off limits to bear hunting. The season will run from Sept. 15 to Dec. 31 and will end if and when a total of 20 bears are killed regardless of sex. Last year, the hunt would have ended early had a sixth female or a total of 20 bears been killed before the end of the season.