CARSON CITY, Nev. — Black bears will remain in the crosshairs of Nevada hunters after a legislative panel agreed Wednesday to make regulations authorizing an annual hunt permanent, despite objections from critics who argue it's unsafe for outdoor enthusiasts in the Tahoe Basin and jeopardizes the state's bruin population.
The Legislative Commission approved regulations adopted earlier by the state Wildlife Commission on an 11-1 vote, with Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, casting the lone vote against it.
"I'm going to oppose this regulation," Leslie said. "My concerns over public safety have not been met."
Members of NoBearHuntNV have been unsuccessfully fighting the hunt since it was first proposed last fall. A lawsuit to block the hunt was dismissed by a judge, and Gov. Brian Sandoval refused to stop it when critics delivered a petition with 15,000 signatures to the governor's office.
Elaine Carrick, a member of NoBearHuntNV, also raised concerns that the regulations could invite poaching. While successful hunters are required to turn over the skull and hide of animals for inspection to game wardens, they are allowed to keep the gall bladder and other body parts that could be sold on the black market.
A bear's gall bladder is prized for its medicinal purposes in some Asian cultures. While it is illegal to sell the body part, officials say it fetch thousands of dollars on the black market.
"The wording in the regulation does not adequately prevent sale of bear gall bladders and paws," she said. "The latter is not even addressed."
The wildlife board earlier this year set regulations for the first black bear hunt in state history that began Aug. 20 and runs through Dec. 31. The commission authorized the killing of 20 bears, of which only six can be females. The season will end once either of those thresholds is reached.
So far 10 bears have been killed. Four were female.
Wednesday's action makes the hunt permanent, meaning that hunting will begin on Aug. 20 each year. The Wildlife Commission will set tag quotas and harvest limits annually.
State wildlife biologists estimate Nevada's black bear population between 200 and 300. Most are located in and around the Lake Tahoe Basin in the Carson Range. Bears are also found in the Pine Nut and Sweetwater mountains east and southeast of Lake Tahoe.
State scientists have said the population is growing at a rate of about 16 percent annually and can support a limited hunt. Bear hunt opponents dispute that and point to other studies that suggest otherwise.
During testimony Wednesday, critics spoke of heated encounters between hikers and hunters on the Tahoe Rim Trail. Some urged signs be posted to warn hikers and others of hunters in the area, while others said bear hunting, if allowed to continue, should be banned in the Tahoe Basin.
"I just don't think that's an appropriate place for this at all," she said.
But others on the legislative panel pointed out that bear hunting has been going on in California for decades on the other side of the Tahoe Basin without incident.
Wildlife officials also noted that of the Nevada bears killed so far, none were taken in the Tahoe area.
Lawmakers who approved the regulations said the decision to allow the hunt was a policy issue best left to the wildlife board.
"I think the job of this commission is to pass regulations based on whether the agency has the authority to adopt the regulations and whether it meets the intent of the law," said Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks.
"It's a hard thing in this environment sometimes to not go back to the policy debate. But that's not the job of this commission."