Man fatally shoots bear cub near Lake Tahoe, angering residents

The recent killing of a young black bear by a homeowner near Lake Tahoe has infuriated residents, including neighbors who dispute the man’s story.

The fatal shooting happened around 1:30 p.m. on Memorial Day in an unincorporated neighborhood of El Dorado County, about 2 miles south of Lake Tahoe Airport.

Steve Gonzalez, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the man told investigators he was in his living room with his dog when a bear entered the home.

“He tried getting up and scaring off the bear by yelling at it and waving his arm, but the bear was acting in a menacing fashion,” Gonzalez said. “So, he retrieved his rifle that was nearby and shot the bear twice.”

He said the wounded bear ran off and climbed up a tree — but fell to the ground because of its injuries.

“The man approached the bear, saw that it was suffering and humanely euthanized it,” Gonzalez said. The man was not injured.

Gonzalez said a Fish and Wildlife warden investigated the shooting, and no charges were filed.

But the killing of the young bear has angered some residents, including Ann Bryant, director of the Bear League, a nonprofit based in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

She said two members of the league were sent to the neighborhood to document what had occurred after receiving a call from a distraught neighbor who had witnessed the shooting.

Bryant said the team members learned from the neighbors that the bear was never completely inside the house and that the homeowner had previously shot another bear.

She said team members attempted to speak to the warden but were mostly ignored. The shooting happened, she noted, at a time of year when young bears are parting from their mothers and learning to live on their own.

When she learned that the warden concluded that the shooting was self-defense and sought no criminal charges, she was livid.

“They believe him rather than all the neighbors who saw it and who know him and who have heard his discussions about how he feels about bears and know about the other killing,” she said. “It’s disappointing the department of wildlife would just turn a blind eye.”

Gonzalez said he did not know whether the homeowner had been involved in other bear shootings.

A neighbor who witnessed the shooting, Bogdan Yamkovenko, 43, said the small bear had spent most of the day in the neighborhood. He said it was about 1:30 p.m. when he noticed the bear come down from a tree he was napping on.

At the time, Yamkovenko was standing in the rear upstairs deck of his home when he noticed the little bear standing by his neighbor’s back door. He said he tried to make noises using his barbecue grill but the bear did not react.

Shortly after, he saw the bear poke his head inside the neighbor’s home, suggesting that the door was left halfway open or opened all the way.

“He inched his way in, getting further and further inside, but he never went all the way in,” he said. “You always saw a part of the bear.”

He then saw the bear step back, turn around, run off and climb up the tree he had been napping on earlier.

“That’s when I heard the first shot,” he said.

Yamkovenko ran down to his neighbor's house, hoping to get him to stop shooting. As he made his way around his neighbor’s house, he heard a second shot.

When Yamkovenko reached his neighbor, he told him to stop shooting and that the Fish and Wildlife Department would take care of the bear.

“He said: ‘Nah, I need to put it out of its misery.’”

Yamkovenko said all three gunshots he heard happened outside, but when the warden came to speak to him, he was told that the neighbor said he had fired four times.

The warden "told us something didn’t add up about the neighbor’s story because the neighbor kept saying there were four shots and that he shot the bear inside the house,” Yamkovenko said.

When he learned that the case was closed, Yamkovenko called the warden, furious. He said the warden has not returned his call.

Gonzalez said he had heard claims about the bear not being inside the house but defended the warden’s findings.

“He’s a trained officer, a state police officer and has taken an oath to uphold his duties,” Gonzalez said of the warden. “And you know, people who work for Fish and Wildlife are dedicated to preserving wildlife for future generations.

“I trust him. We trust him, we have a lot of confidence in him,” he added. “He went out there to personally investigate it and found what the homeowner was saying was true and decided there was no need to go further than this.”

Bryant said she will continue to look into the matter until there is justice for the bear.

Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.