The area draws many thousands of tourists a year. In summer, they escape from the Las Vegas Valley and the scorching desert heat. In winter, they converge on the mountain with cheap sleds to try their luck on the slopes.
In the many years I’ve lived there, barely a month passes without a tourist approaching me and earnestly asking the bear question.
“Are there bears up here?”
The answer depends on my mood. Occasionally, I’ll say, “I don’t know. Have you seen one?” But most of the time I respond with the truth, “No, no bears. Deer, bobcat, raccoon, porcupine, coyote, mountain lion. But no bears.”
But the way things are going in Nevada, I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to say that.
I’m not guaranteeing a mass migration of black bears from neighboring Utah, mind you. But considering other wildlife wonderments in Nevada in recent years, I wouldn’t be surprised to find one rummaging around Old Town one day.
After all, a black bear wandered from Utah all the way into Goldfield just a few years ago. It was young and skinny from starvation, and it was later killed, but it managed to cross a long stretch of arid country in search of food.
The Nevada Division of Wildlife estimates Nevada is home to from 150 to 300 black bears, the lowest total in the Western states. Most of them are found in the Sierra Nevada, Rubies, Toiyabe and Jarbidge mountain ranges. But only one has managed to wander all the way into Goldfield.
Meanwhile, a yearling bull moose recently was spotted by an elk hunter just outside Wells. It was walking toward Utah but, according to wildlife officials, is expected to winter in Nevada.
Nevada Wildlife biologist Ken Gray told the Associated Press, “It’s the first moose we’ve ever known that’s south of Interstate 80 in Nevada. It’s rare to see moose in Nevada, but not unheard of. Moose sightings are few and far between.”
Even fewer and farther between in Wells, I suspect.
The biologist speculated that the young male might have roamed into Nevada in search of a mate, which makes him sound more like a typical weekend tourist than a member of the wild kingdom.
Perhaps he was looking for the moose sighted in Elko County near Merritt Mountain on the edge of the Idaho border. According to the AP, a moose was also spotted near Carlin in the 1990s.
Although Nevada is hardly suitable as moose habitat, the latest moose seems pretty comfortable in the Silver State. Gray said, “He was last seen about 10 miles south of Wells, and I think he’s still out there.”
As if that weren’t enough animal oddity, outdoorsmen are increasingly sighting mature wolves in the mountains of Northern Nevada. That’s right, wolves.
Perhaps the best place to track the wolf sightings is on archery and hunting websites. Serious hunters like to scout their favorite areas for game, and on those trips they’ve started seeing adult wolves in northern Elko County. The prevailing suspicion is the wolves might have chased game down from Idaho.
While we’re on the subject, one master hunter I spoke with during a trip to Elko earlier this year told me he’s noticed a dramatic rise in the elk population in the county.
I don’t know what it all means, and I’m not sure the wildlife experts know, either. Are development and shrinking water holes changing game migration patterns?
If it means more animals are coming to Nevada, I’m all for it.
Back in Old Town, the next time some tourist asks me the bear question, I’ll answer, “Not yet. But stick around. You never know.”
John L. Smith writes a weekly column on rural Nevada. He also writes a daily column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at (702) 383-0295 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.