Biologist proves himself as Nevada's 'bear man'

If you're a bear roaming the Nevada side of the Tahoe Basin, there's a chance sooner or later you may run into Carl Lackey.

Lackey, a biologist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife for the past 10 years, is the state's foremost bear expert.

"About seven years ago, when bear complaints were on the rise, the agency wanted to start a program to address it," Lackey said. "I was given the leeway and freedom to build a program. After a lot of reading, research and talks with other bear experts in different parts of the country, I finally had something in place."

The early days of the program were tough, with Lackey learning on the job, while trying to keep focused on being a single father to his 11-year-old son, Nolan.

"It's gotten easier, now that he's older and can help me out with the bear work," Lackey said. "When he was younger, I'd have to bundle him up and take him with me on calls at 2 a.m."

Lackey, who was born in Wyoming and raised in Reno, always had an interest in animals.

"When I was a kid and the family would go to Sand Harbor beach, my siblings would be swimming and I'd be searching for animals," Lackey said.

"I loved watching Marlon Perkins and Jim Fowler on 'The Wild Kingdom,' and I was really taken by Jack London's book 'The Call of the Wild.'"

In 1999, Lackey started researching what he calls "urban bears" to learn more about the animals he was confronting.

"The urban bears are those that have evolved into being dependent on human encroachment and the benefits that come with that encroachment," Lackey said. "The difference from urban to wild is that these bears learn where to get a free meal and lose their fear of man. They learn habits that keep them from being wild."

Lackey learned that the status of capture and relocate was not a successful solution to the bear problem.

"The Montana Department of Fish and Game had instituted an aversion program and had a lot of success, so I decided to try that here."

The technique involves making contact with humans as unpleasant as possible.

"Other than the typical making noise and throwing rocks, people can also make their areas undesirable for the bears by cutting off their easy meals," Lackey said. "Garbage left out, windows or doors left open - all of these things are very attractive to them. People need to use common sense when living in bear country."

Lackey has received about 70 calls already this spring and has had to deal with about 10 bears, which is high for this early.

"The problem is that people will call even if they see a bear walking down the street. The bear could be just walking along, minding his own business, and people will call 911," Lackey said.

While most of Lackey's calls result in a safe capture with no trouble, occasionally he has had some close calls.

"Wild bears are much less of a problem when it comes to denning them (a procedure in which Lackey will enter the den of a hibernating bear to attach a radio collar).

The wild bears are groggy and generally are too sleepy to react, but the urban bears wake right up. That's risky."

Lackey, whose work area can range to Hawthorne to east of Reno, said that killing or relocating animals will not solve the problem.

"Bear-proofing is really the only solution and while people hear it over and over, it does work," Lackey said.

As for his growing reputation among people as well as bears, Lackey said, "The other day, I got a call from the Nevada Highway Patrol dispatcher, reporting a bear being hit by a car. The dispatcher asked if I was the bear man."


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