Bear death, traps ignite controversy
Some Lake Tahoe Basin residents equate euthanizing a black bear to murder. For Nevada Department of Wildlife officials, it’s an unavoidable part of the job.
The Lake Tahoe Wall of Shame, a Facebook page dedicated to bear awareness, targeted NDOW Biologist Carl Lackey after he killed a black bear May 17 that had entered an elderly woman’s home. Some comments — posted both by anonymous and identified users — called for the department to fire Lackey while others threatened the biologist. It was enough to raise a red flag at NDOW.
“We’re concerned that when we carry out what is ultimately our mission, our people are subject to over-the-line criticism,” NDOW spokesman Chris Healy said. “We’re extremely disturbed the public debate has gotten to this point. It’s extremely disappointing and could lead to potential danger. I hope they’re not using this forum to manipulate people into taking violent action.”
The Lake Tahoe Wall of Shame was founded in 2011 as a forum for open, uncensored dialog, site spokesman Mark Smith said in a previous article. But threats aimed at the alleged shooter of another bear killed last fall forced administrators to change that policy. In that instance, Smith blocked some of the worst offenders from posting on the page.
When Smith learned that NDOW contacted law enforcement about the recent postings, he removed an anonymous profile of Lackey from the page’s wall, but maintained that NDOW exaggerated the threats and the danger.
“I consider it an abuse of power and a violation of federal law … for NDOW agents to invent ‘threats’ to manipulate public opinion. If they did receive a threat via telephone or Facebook it should be easy enough for them to identify the source. I suspect this will go nowhere because they, once again, invented this threat,” Smith wrote in a Facebook message last week.
Shortly before midnight May 16, a 3-year-old male black bear entered the home of a 92-year-old Incline Village resident.
The animal — named “Cloud” by locals — was a first-offender. The department typically follows a three-strike policy for nuisance bears, but in this case the animal was deemed dangerous because it broke into a house. As soon as Lackey heard the bear was inside, he knew he was going to kill it.
“A 300- to 400-pound bear doesn’t belong in someone’s home. That bear is going to continue that activity. If it were to injure someone, NDOW is on the line,” Lackey said.
Lackey arrived at Incline Village around 12:35 a.m. Friday. He darted the bear as it attempted to exit the second-story window, and, after the animal climbed down the house, he treed it with his Karelian bear dog. The bear fell from the tree when the tranquilizer took effect — it was uninjured, Lackey said — at which point he shot the bear.
“People wonder why we can’t relocate bears. I’m not going to relocate a bear that’s broken into someone’s home,” he said.
Lackey argues that translocating a bear sets NDOW up for a potential lawsuit and hasn’t proven effective. The bears have a tendency to return to their original stomping grounds.
But that doesn’t mean wildlife officials kill every bear they deal with. In the past three years, NDOW has captured and released 238 bears for tagging or aversive conditioning purposes and killed 38, according to department statistics.
But it’s those 38 deaths that spark the virulent pubic discourse. A 2010 study published in “Current Directions of Psychological Science” posited a tendency to anthropomorphize — projecting human qualities on objects or animals — leads people to deem nonhumans “worthy of moral care and consideration.”
“For wildlife professionals, anthropomorphism is an anathema to them. Interestingly, wildlife folks (NDOW) apply ear tag numbers to bears while those on the other side of this debate apply names like ‘Cloud,’” Healy wrote in an email.
NDOW set traps this week to capture a bruin and her two cubs that apparently broke into the garage of an Incline Village condominium. In that time, traps have been sprayed with Pine-Sol and at least one posting on the Lake Tahoe Wall of Shame called for people to patrol the traps with dogs to scare the bears away.
According to Healy, the traps were empty as of 3 p.m. Friday and will stay in place through the night. NDOW has no plans to kill the bears at the time, he said. But if the animals break into a home, that would change.
“The plan is to hopefully use aversive conditioning. With this female and the cubs, there’s no plan to do them in,” he said.
Tahoe Bear League Executive Director Ann Bryant said no Bear League members interfered with the traps, but she knows of people in the North Shore community who are unhappy with the situation and who fear the bears will be killed if captured.
“There’s a lot of people in Incline Village who don’t like those traps. They’re appalled to see them,” she said.
People have sabotaged NDOW traps before, according to Lackey. Most traps aren’t used to kill bears, he said, but rather to tag them or use aversive conditioning on the animals.
“I’ve been dealing with this for 17 years, just not to this extent. Social media makes it worse. It’s part of the job. I have to deal with people who want all the bears killed and I have to deal with people who think they’re cute and cuddly. NDOW is in the middle,” Lackey said.
Sierra Sun Editor Kevin MacMillian contributed to this report.