Q&A Tuesday: Wildlife biologist works in interface
Carl Lackey is a wildlife biologist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife and capture coordinator who handles incidents such as the black bear captured on the Capitol grounds last week. Lackey deals with not only large mammals such as bears and mountain lions, but a wide variety of other wild animals around Nevada’s urban centers.
A bear was captured at the Capitol grounds in downtown Carson City on Friday. Is it unusual for a large wild animal such as a bear to be in town?
I’d say it’s unusual, but I’d also say it happens a lot more often than people realize. Some of our collared animals have moved back and forth across these valleys several times and never get reported. We know they are crossing through Carson Valley and Carson City because we have radio collars on them, but they never get sighted. It’s pretty much at night and, as far as lions and black bears, it attests to their desire to be secretive and to shy away from humans.
Is this something new? Is it a growing problem, and, if so, why?
I would say no, it’s not new. Clear back 140 years ago, there were newspaper articles that talk about bears or [mountain] lions moving through town and coming into contact with people. But it is a growing problem in western Nevada for the last 10 to 15 years. The conflicts of the wildland urban interface have been increasing since about 1990.
The human population is expanding – Nevada is the fastest-growing state. When you combine that with places like Reno that have built right up into the forest, wildlife-human conflicts are inevitable.
What kinds of animals are coming through town?
All types. Bears, and lions. Coyotes are probably one of most adaptable to human environments. And they will prey on domestic pets such as cats. If your cat is running loose, and you’ve got coyotes in neighborhood, you’re taking a risk.
There are raccoons, skunks, bobcats and mule deer. The west side of Carson was historically a deer winter range. What is now Timberline, Ash Canyon, Kings Canyon was all critical deer winter range. Last winter with the heavy winter we had, the deer were really congregating in west Carson.
Are so-called wild animals becoming less frightened of people?
They become much more tolerant of people. Species that are in continuous contact with human environments become habituated to people.
The animals people are worried about are the large predators such as bears and lions. Are the smaller animals dangerous, too?
Bobcats, raccoons and skunks are all small enough not to be a threat to humans. But raccoons and skunks are considered vector species for rabies. And they expose you to a host of other diseases. The fact they are hanging around your house increases your chance of contracting something.
How about deer? People look at deer like they’re Bambi. Are they dangerous?
For most part, no. But any wildlife species, you don’t want to approach. And in case of mule deer, you attract things that prey on mule deer – like lions.
What should people do to avoid attracting bears in particular?
You don’t want provide any type of food. Don’t leave pet food out. Pet food is the big one with raccoons and skunks. With bears, it’s anything. Don’t leave trash out.
And fruit trees. When people plant fruit trees, that attracts all types of wildlife.
Bird feeders attract black bears. Koi ponds. We live in a desert so when you put a water source in an area that didn’t typically have one, it attracts wildlife. Raccoons and skunks love koi ponds.
A lot of people don’t mind certain types of wildlife coming to their pond or fruit tree. But they don’t realize large carnivores are also coming in.
By putting those types of attractants out, you’re increasing your chance of having conflict with a potentially dangerous animal.
What do you do if there is a bear or lion outside, or if coyotes are taking neighborhood cats? Who do you call?
First and foremost, you have take care of the attractant – take some responsibility and do what you can to reduce the chances those animals will come around. For raccoons and skunks, there are pest-control services. Some county pest controls handle them, but our response is pretty limited on species like that. If it’s a sick animal or something like that, somebody will probably come out.
Bears and lions, of course, that’s a different story. I still ask people to remove the attractant first, but since bears are public safety risks, call us. Lions are a kind of tricky species to deal with. They have huge territories so a sighting in itself is not really any thing to get concerned about. Where we would get concerned is if we had several sightings in a short period of time in an urban area. Then we would want do something with that lion.
Under no circumstances handle any wild animal. That’s asking for trouble.