It's safe to say that nearly every bear that roams the Nevada side of the Tahoe Basin has at one time or another, been introduced to Carl Lackey.Lackey, a biologist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife for the past 10 years, is the state's foremost bear expert, a distinction he earned through a lot of hard work and study."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 his other career as 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, but 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. Two other influences on Lackey's career decision, involved television and a literary classic.
"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" in an effort to learn more about the animals he was confronting on a weekly basis."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 quo of capture and relocate was not a successful solution to the bear problem, and looked for another way."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 for the free-loading beasts."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 also has an assistant, when it comes to making things uncomfortable for the bears, in the form of "Striker" his three-year-old Karelian Bear Dog.
The breed comes from Russia and Finland, where they're used to hunt big game."Striker's job is to irritate and haze the bear. It's instinctive of the breed and, even though he's been swatted by a bear, he shows no fear and just keeps up the harassment," Lackey said.Lackey has received about 70 calls already this spring, but he's only had to deal with about 10 bears so far, which is high for this time of year."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 where 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 and points 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.
Since he started his guardianship over the state's bears, Lackey has had dealings with about 105 different bears, with repeat offenders raising to total number of incidents to 270."There are also 50 unknown bears, who were hit by cars over that time," Lackey said.Lackey is hoping to earn a masters degree in the future but, "In between bears and a son, I don't know when I'll find the time."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."As for what he thinks of the animals he has sworn to protect, Lackey said, "I love working with them. I think they're cool animals."