Bear Killing Sparks Controversy Over Self-Defense Claims in Lake Tahoe

by Vern Evans

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The killing of a young black bear by a homeowner near Lake Tahoe has ignited a heated debate among local residents there about the appropriateness of using deadly force in self-defense against animal predators. The incident, which occurred on Memorial Day in an unincorporated neighborhood of El Dorado County, California, has left the community divided, with some neighbors questioning the homeowner’s justification for the shooting.

The confrontation unfolded around 1:30 p.m. when the homeowner, whose name has not been disclosed, encountered the bear inside his living room. According to Steve Gonzalez, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), the man initially tried to scare the bear away by yelling and waving his arms. When the bear allegedly acted menacingly, the homeowner retrieved his rifle and shot the bear twice. The wounded bear fled outside, climbed a tree, but eventually fell due to its injuries. The homeowner then reportedly finished off the suffering bear with a final shot to prevent further agony, the LA Times reported.

The CDFW investigated the shooting and concluded that it was a case of self-defense, resulting in no charges being filed against the homeowner. Gonzalez emphasized in the Times article, the warden’s thorough investigation and trust in the findings, asserting that the homeowner’s account was credible and that the actions were necessary for personal safety. Self-defense against animals who use a danger to humans is allowed by law in California and virtually every other state.

However, the shooting has sparked outrage among some residents, or at least one resident who was quoted in the story, and wildlife advocates. Ann Bryant, director of the Bear League, a nonprofit organization in the Lake Tahoe Basin, expressed her frustration with the CDFW’s decision. She argued that eyewitness accounts from neighbors contradict the homeowner’s story. Bryant told the Times that based on at least one neighbor’s account that the bear was never fully inside the house and that the homeowner had a history of shooting bears, raising suspicions about his true intentions.

One neighbor, Bogdan Yamkovenko, provided a detailed account of the incident that diverges from the homeowner’s narrative. Yamkovenko stated that the bear only partially entered the house and that the first shot was fired after the bear had already run outside. He also noted that he and his wife were trying to call Fish and Wildlife to handle the situation when the bear was shot a third time by the homeowner, who insisted on putting the bear out of its misery, according to Live 5 WCSC.

The conflicting stories have left the community grappling with the broader implications of self-defense laws, which are traditionally understood in the context of human threats but also apply to dangerous animal encounters. While the right to protect oneself from harm is undisputed, the debate centers on whether the homeowner’s actions were justified or excessive under the circumstances.

Despite the CDFW’s ruling, Bryant and concerned neighbors continue to seek further investigation and clarity. They argue that the bear, likely a young cub learning to survive on its own, posed no real threat and that nonlethal methods could have been employed to address the situation. The Bear League plans to pursue the matter to ensure accountability and prevent similar incidents in the future. How they plan to do that since the state authority on the matter, the CDFW, has already offered a final ruling on the matter remains to be seen.

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