The community surrounding Lake Tahoe has a problem. With a growing population of bears moving into the area during summer months, they are becoming increasingly brave when approaching people in search of human food. They break into houses and cars, with no regard for property and no fear of consequences.
While the debate of how to deal with these beautiful beasts rages on, the fight between wildlife workers and bear activists has intensified.
Documents that have recently been filed in court accuse Tahoe-area bear activist Carolyn Stark of stalking Nevada Department of Wildlife biologist Heather Reich. The documents report an incident where Stark followed Reich all the way back to her Reno office after tagging a bear near the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. Stark has denied the allegations.
The incident is one in a series of conflicts between wildlife officials and bear rights activists, who belong to the organization named BEAR League. While the bears in the area are managed by two different state wildlife departments (California and Nevada), the BEAR League has specifically targeted Nevada as having inhumane policies towards bears.
And the harassment of people involved in bear altercations doesn’t stop with wildlife officials. Home break-ins by bears are increasing in the area, but homeowners fear that if they allow wildlife officials to kill or capture a bear on their property, they will be harassed by bear advocates.
Bear traps in Tahoe neighborhoods have been at the center of the dispute. After receiving complaints of bears breaking into homes in an area, wildlife officials will deploy a trap in order to extract the animal from the area. Filled with a trail of marshmallows to lure the bear, the trap is a way to determine if the bear was the responsible for the break ins.
If officials catch a bear who they determine broke into three different houses, they will euthanize the animal. Of course, the three strike rule is the main problem the BEAR League has with Nevada wildlife officials.
“As you are aware, I disagree with many of NDoW’s policies with respect to trapping and euthanizing bears,” Stark wrote in a statement. “Therefore, wildlife advocates, such as myself, do have a right to peacefully and respectfully disagree with said policies.”
Incline Village resident and avid BEAR League volunteer Carolyn Stark said the department often instills fear into residents and visitors and overreacts to situations with black bears.
“There isn’t really data to support that a habituated bear is a more dangerous bear — it fact, it shows just the opposite,” said Stark. “Basically, NDOW likes to use words like ‘aggressive’ and ‘dangerous’ to justify their kill policy, and that’s not fair to the bears, and it’s not fair to the people who live in bear country.”
The bear activists have been criticized for caring for a bear’s safety over a humans. In a Facebook post, the organization told a story of a bear break in and seemingly placed blame on the homeowner, not the bear:
Conversely, bear activists have applauded the actions of the California Department of Wildlife in bear related incidents. They see these officials as willing to work with activists to safely extract bears from dangerous situations and having a much lower euthanization rate.
And at the center of the controversy is the animal. The bears are brash in their actions. They aren’t that scared of dogs or rubber bullets and California officials are very reluctant to kill a bear unless it attacks a person. It seems that attempting to change bear culture to teach them to stay away from the homes is the best way for a generational solution to the problem. For now, residents are “bear proofing” their homes and creating motion-censored alarm systems to alert them if there is a bear break in.
In any event, harassing wildlife employees may not be the answer to help the problems related to bears. As the activists become increasingly hostile towards wildlife officials, working together on bear incidents seems almost impossible.
“The escalation of their tactics is alarming and concerning,” said Jack Robb, NDOW’s deputy director.