Tahoe “Wildlife Advocates” menace state biologist

| May 28, 2013 | 0 Comments

Photo courtesy Jen Schmidt Photography. www.jenschmidtphotography.com

Criticism over bear incidents turns aggressive, violent online

By Kyle Magin

Tahoe Quarterly Editor

A Nevada wildlife biologist came under attack recently after the accidental death of a black bear in Incline Village. The state employee found aggressive, violent and even threatening messages left online and  emailed to his public account.

Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) Biologist Carl Lackey—frequently tasked with handling calls for black bears in Tahoe and specifically Incline—found himself the target of self-proclaimed “wildlife advocates” online, both people who identified themselves and anonymous sources. Shortly before midnight on May 16, Lackey responded to a bear call in Incline—a 3-year old male bear entered the home of a 92-year old woman through her open garage. Lackey, acting in accordance with NDOW policy, tranquilized the bear inside the house. It escaped from the home at which point Lackey’s canine treed the bear, according to an NDOW report. Shortly thereafter the tranquilizer dart took effect, sending the bear falling from the tree and hitting multiple branches on the way down, according to the NDOW report filed by Lackey. At that point Lackey dispatched the bear with a .22 rifle, in accordance with NDOW policy.

An online firestorm followed as news of the incident spread, led in part by the Facebook pages “Lake Tahoe Wall of Shame” and “BEAR League.” Each site posted Lackey’s readily-accessible contact information and urged followers to email Lackey. In addition, subsequent posts on the incident and Lackey on the Lake Tahoe Wall of Shame page drew comments violent or threatening in nature. Some have since been pulled from the page, though some remain. Tahoe Quarterly filed a Freedom of Information Act request for Lackey’s emails following the incident, in addition to tracking various Facebook pages discussing his job performance. These postings appeared on the Lake Tahoe Wall of Shame Facebook page:

Victoria LeDoux Serpa commented, in regard to Lackey and the elderly woman involved in the May 16 incident: “This stupid woman she needs to be put down along with lackey!!!!”

User Ava Sands: “Oh please beat the crap out of this guy.”

User Dawn Michelle Davis “(Revenge is mine sayeth the Lord)”

Connor Altick “You need to get the license plate next time… Post that and the problem will be solved by us locals. Trust me.”

On Wednesday, May 22, Lake Tahoe Wall of Shame’s administrators posted the following “psychological profile” of Lackey from an anonymous source. They later clarified the source never met Lackey, but did not specify how the source came up with the profile or what materials and information were used to assemble it. The Facebook page administrators refused to verify the source’s credentials and later pulled down the post. It reads in full:

“Besides the [obvious] narcissist, controlling nature, [Lackey] likes conflict, has misogynistic tendencies, is oppositional, and carries some feelings of persecution and grandiosity. He wants to feel important so he’ll associate with people he sees as having some position or power, he’ll take jobs where he can control something (does he get to write tickets for infractions to people, not just shoot bears?) Because he needs conflict he’ll take jobs where it’s built in, or create it if its not. Going far off the limb here, if he’s married, his wife doesn’t take him too seriously, although she’ll defer to him, and lets him complain about people, his job, his bosses. Oh yea, he’ll always know better then his bosses.”

Lackey received menacing emails as well. One from a member of the public attempts to make Lackey aware of a petition circulating online to lobby for his firing:

“as i hope u know, there is petition going around to get u fired. lots of signatures u dirty, unfit DOW employee.”—elliebcnv@charter.net

Attempts by Tahoe Quarterly to reach out to the sender  received no response.

Another email came from Chris Castellon, a first grade teacher from Fair Oaks, California on May 21. It follows:

“Killed another one yesterday, you piece of sh** (our edit)!!! There is a very special place in Hell of people like you!!”


Castellon, when reached for comment, had nothing further to add to her statement.

For his part, the comments don’t worry Lackey, he says. The longtime biologist and member of one of the longest ongoing black bear studies in North America remains confident in his commitment to wildlife, he says.

“I don’t pay much attention to it. I’m just doing my job,” he says. “I’m the number one advocate for bears in the Tahoe Basin.”

Groups like nonprofit BEAR League—currently urging people to sign the petition for his ouster—are using the opportunity and vitriol against him to raise money, Lackey says.

“The more controversy they stir up, the more people will donate,” he says. “The funny thing is that I’m not doing anything different than I was 15 years ago, and I was praised by them back then.”

Ann Bryant, who runs the BEAR League from her Homewood residence, agrees that Lackey was once in the group’s good graces—he even taught courses for her group on how to interact with bears—but scoffs at the notion that the call for his ouster has to do with anything besides his job performance and the way he interprets Nevada bear policy.

“I think he has gone off the deep end,” Bryant says. “It’s a big worry because it’s been proven time and again that when he responds, (the end result is) a dead bear.”

NDOW’s records show Lackey dealt with 11 bears in the Tahoe area this calendar year, capturing six and euthanizing two. One incident from earlier this year particularly galled bear advocates when Lackey tranquilized a cub during a capture attempt in the area of Mt. Rose Highway, who subsequently died from the dosage due to its weakness from the winter.

Current outrage against Lackey stems back to his perceived involvement with Nevada’s black bear hunt, enacted in 2011, says Bryant.

While she advocates for Lackey’s immediate firing, issuing threats against him crosses the line, she says.

“I think threatening people is absolutely not acceptable. Asking for his termination is perfectly fine,” she says. Bryant adds that she removes any threatening material posted to her BEAR League Facebook page. Administrators at Lake Tahoe Wall of Shame refused comment for this story and their stance on threats remains unclear.

While most of the emails to Lackey’s account and comments left on the Lake Tahoe Wall of Shame Facebook page do not veer into violent or threatening rhetoric, those that do concern Lackey’s NDOW colleagues.

“We’re increasingly concerned by the irresponsible rhetoric which is being used by people,” says NDOW spokesman Chris Healy. “It’s like they’re trying to goad someone into action.”

Healy says Lackey has the full confidence of NDOW’s administrators and finds the biologist acted in accordance with department policy.

No specific threats had been investigated by late last week, says NDOW Chief Game Warden Rob Buonomicci, who leads the agency’s law enforcement wing. But the situation is being monitored, he added.

“As the bears become more active, as the people become more active, we’re going to encounter more of these problems with the bears,” Buonomici says.

If people have a problem with NDOW’s policies, they should take it up with the department instead of attacking NDOW through emails and online forums, he adds.


Editor’s Note: All documents referred to in this story are available for your review by contacting kyle@tahoequarterly.com. Contact the writer at kyle@tahoequarterly.com or by calling (775) 298-1930.


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