Halfway through their hike along the Tahoe Rim Trail on Wednesday, South Lake Tahoe residents Bill and Connie Morrisroe stumbled upon an unexpected situation off Spooner Summit.
“Hikers, we’re releasing a bear toward you,” Wildlife biologist Carl Lackey yelled to them. “Stay where you are.”
Lackey was releasing two female black bears that were caught near a home in Incline Village on Tuesday.
The 8-year-old had been caught five years ago in the same area, but for the yearling being trapped and processed was a new experience.
When the door to the yearling’s trap was opened, the bear darted out and went directly up a tree. After about 10 minutes of Rooster, a Karelian bear dog, barking at her she made her way down the tree and off into the forest.
The 8-year-old, however, was content to stay inside the trap.
Lackey and his team tried tipping the trap up to dump her out, but she stayed put. They then tried banging on the sides of the trap and yelling, but no luck there either. Next, Lackey dumped water onto her head through a grate in the top, and still she wouldn’t budge.
“It’s happened before,” Lackey said of the uncooperative bear.
The next step was to use bear spray to chase her out, but the spray had more of an affect on the humans than the bear.
Finally after 30 minutes of failed attempts, a paintball to the behind got the female up and out of the trap headed directly for the Morrisroes before climbing a 120-foot pine tree.
“It was fun. I wasn’t worried about it. I was kind of hoping to see a bear, but I didn’t expect this,” Bill said of his close encounter. “I’ve read a lot about catch and release, but had no idea how they did it. They don’t just open up the cage and let them out.”
Bill referred to the aversion conditioning Lackey uses to teach bears not to return to populated areas.
Part of the conditioning includes shooting the bear with rubber bullets and having the trained dogs haze the bear by chasing it up a tree and holding it there.
“With use of the dogs we usually don’t see them for several weeks or years. The aversive conditioning process teaches bears to associate slight pain and discomfort with people” Lackey said, “The idea is to take a bold bear and make it less bold so if they see people, they’re running the other direction or climbing a tree.”
Worland, Wyo., resident Steve Dondero was impressed by the aversive conditioning process. Dondero’s son-in-law is a Nevada Department of Wildlife game warden.
“I got to watch Carl process the bear yesterday. What I found most fascinating is how Carl handled the bear to do the studies and the records he keeps,” Dondero said. “It was interesting the fact it was caught in someone’s backyard. I like the aversive conditioning that Carl’s doing. Hopefully that bear won’t become a problem bear.”
Teresa Sexton and her daughter also watched the bear release.
“It’s really cool. I’ve never been that close to a bear, so to see it released is really neat,” the Minden resident said. “I remember seeing one in the garbage once in Kirkwood with a Slurpee cup chugging down a Slurpee. It was pretty close.”
Tuesday marked the beginning of Bear Logic Month to promote bear awareness in Nevada.
“The summer of 2014 is expected to be a busy one for nuisance bear activity in Nevada,” NDOW spokesman Chris Healy said. ”The ongoing drought has dried up many natural food sources and bears are expected to greatly expand their search for food in urban interface areas where human sources of garbage can often be found to supplement the black bear’s diet.”
Tuesday was also Lackey’s newest dog, Dazzle’s first bear release. The 3-month-old was kept on a leash while veteran Rooster was allowed to give chase.
Lackey had to put his 13-year-old dog Stryker down earlier this year.
To report nuisance bear activity call the NDOW’s Bear Hotline at (775) 688-BEAR (2327). For information on living with bears, visit www.ndow.org and find the ”Bear Logic” page on the web.