Bears are on the prowl in northern Nevada, scrounging through garbage cans, cars and even houses in search of food from the forested neighborhoods of Lake Tahoe to the apartment rows of south Reno.
Since March, the Nevada Department of Wildlife has responded to at least 80 calls of bear activity across Northern Nevada, about twice the normal level. Bears are causing problems from Topaz Lake to the Carson Valley foothills and Virginia City.
"Its probably the busiest spring on record," said Carl Lackey, a wildlife biologist and bear expert for the wildlife department.
On Sunday, Lackey and his colleagues captured a young black bear found sleeping in a culvert at a South Reno apartment complex. Late Monday night, another bear was struck by a car as it attempted to cross Interstate 80 near Wadsworth, causing the vehicle to roll over. The driver escaped serious injury, but the bear was killed.
That same night, Incline Village resident Lily Hodgkiss was startled when her dog charged out onto her deck, chasing an adult bear up a tree.
On Kingsbury Grade, not far from Lake Tahoe's south shore casino area, Lynn Dahl told the Reno Gazette-Journal a bear broke into her garage, raiding a freezer of about $500 worth of frozen food.
"We've always seen bears, but they've never been so brazen," Dahl said.
With the animals increasingly on the prowl during the daylight, she admits to safety concerns, particularly for neighborhood children.
"We all know the bears were here first, but they have gotten so used to humans," Dahl said. "It's almost like they're losing the ability to forage."
Continuing drought has reduced the natural supply of berries, nuts and other natural foods consumed by bears, experts said.
But the heart of the problem is the ready, year-round supply of garbage and other tasty human foods, Lackey said. More and more bears are relying on humans for food, and they are passing that behavior on to their offspring.
Many of the bears causing problems now are yearlings being pushed out on their own by their mothers, experts said. They're pursuing their meals in a manner taught to them since they were cubs.
"It's a matter of food availability," Lackey said. "People are just not getting it."