A homeowner near South Fork Reservoir in Elko County heard her dogs barking at about 1 a.m. on May 19. With a flashlight, she investigated the ruckus and thought she saw a large animal in her chicken coop.
“The dogs chased the animal from the coop, and the resident was able to see it more clearly,” said Joe Doucette, a spokesperson for the Nevada Department of Wildlife, in a phone interview.
Later that morning, Game Warden Nick Brunson visited the property to attempt to confirm the sighting.
“We get a lot of reports of bears that we are not able to confirm,” Doucette said. “Pictures help.” In this case, there were no pictures, but Brunson confirmed the sighting when he found tracks and fur from an American black bear near the coop.
“The chickens were all fine,” Doucette said, though the bear caused minor damage to the chicken wire.
On Wednesday, two people reported seeing a bear in Carlin. “By river corridor it’s probably 25 miles, 30 miles from South Fork,” Doucette said, adding that it was probably the same bear.
He said that while bears are relatively common in Western Nevada—“along the Sierra Front, in the Pine Nut Range, Virignia Range, in Washoe County and Carson City”—they’re rare in Eastern Nevada.
According to an NDOW press release, “There have been reports, but no confirmed sightings of bears in the Ruby Mountains over the past several years. However, bear sightings have been confirmed in Eastern Nevada almost annually over the last decade. According to NDOW biologist Carl Lackey, bears historically roamed many of Nevada’s interior mountain ranges until the early 1900s. Historical data shows bears lived as far south as Lincoln and Nye counties.”
During the mining booms of the late 1800s, several of the state’s mountain ranges were deforested. This is considered the main reason that bears disappeared from the region. “Unmanaged hunting and conflicts with domestic livestock operators also likely contributed to this extirpation,” the press release reads.
NDOW biologist Carl Lackey suspects that the bear that was seen this week may have wandered down from Idaho and likely spent the winter hibernating in Nevada.
Anyone who observes a bear in Eastern Nevada is encouraged to contact NDOW Dispatch at (775) 688-1332.
Kris Vagner is an arts and culture writer who’s earned awards for critical writing, entertainment writing, feature writing, and—somehow—sports writing. She’s also the editor of Double Scoop, Nevada’s visual arts news site. More at www.krisvagner.com. Support her work in The Ally.