Cultures Clash at Capitol Over Bear Hunting


Bear hunting was illegal in Nevada for 82 years until, in 2011, Governor Sandoval chose not to interfere with the Nevada Wildlife Commission’s hunting regulation.

On Mar. 7, Senator Aaron Ford patiently listened to a battle of clashing cultures when Nevadans voiced their concerns over a bill that would classify the black bear as a protected mammal, effectively prohibiting the Board of Wildlife Commissioners from authorizing the hunting of black bears.

On one side of the debate is the generational hunter; an extensive lineage of fathers teaching their children in the same way they were taught. On the other side are Native Americans who view the bear as sacred and have a religious connection with the animal. Between these seemingly polar opposites are the scientists and animal activists.

Here is the tricky part: every single person in the room loves the same thing, the experience of being a part of nature. Yet the tension was obviously thick in the room. At one point, Senator Ford actually had to request that no one else let a slur slip after someone testified in opposition to “a bleeding heart . . .” — you get the rest.

Yet, despite the name-calling, both sides have nothing but pure adoration and love for the outdoors, animals, and the prosperity of the bear population.

Buck Sampson, a spiritual advisor and member of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, said that multiple tribes in the Nevada area consider the bear sacred.

“It’s in our culture, it’s in our tradition, it’s in our religion. We have stories and songs handed down, stories about the bear,” Sampson said. “We have dances that go on to this day. We still honor the bear, he is our relative, we call him our brother, our uncle, our grandfather.”

Fred Houck, one of the few individuals to draw a bear tag in Nevada, called it “the opportunity of a lifetime,” and “overwhelming to be hunting on the ‘Ponderosa’”. In his blog “Huntin’ Fool” he also wished other hunters the same opportunity.

One of the primary concerns of those who oppose the bill is their belief that the bear will be just the first of many animals this law will open doors for regarding bans on hunting. “Soon it will be the lion” seemed to finish every testimony in opposition.

Moreover, taxidermists and hunting guides said the law would encroach on their livelihood, and that out-of state-hunters use other Nevada facilities like hotels, restaurants, and other amenities that have a positive influence on commerce.

Then the science and population projections came into play. Advocates of the bill claim that the Nevada Department of Wildlife population statistics reflects a push of wild bears into urban areas, rather than an increase in total population.

Members of the opposition said hunting a small population of bears in a small area would not decimate the species as long as there is proper regulation. No one hates a poacher more than a hunter, and a 6 female limit for the season would still allow for a sustainable black bear population.

Next under the attack was the migration of bears between California and Nevada. Hunters said that a new California law restricting hunting dogs would help boost the black bear population. On the other side were additional arguments regarding accurate population estimates. How can we be sure we aren’t wiping out the rest of the bears on this side of the mountain before it is too late?

After more than three hours of testimonies, presentations, and Senator Ford repeatedly telling people from both sides, that a disagreement is not an attack of lifestyle preference or cultural beliefs, it seems like there is still a long way to go before any side faces disappointment.