A longtime Nevada biologist is suing bear protection advocates at Lake Tahoe he accuses of harassing and threatening him through a “vicious and calculated” social media campaign that paints him as a corrupt bear murderer who should be imprisoned — or worse.
Carl Lackey, the state wildlife agency’s chief intervenor in bear-human conflicts, filed the defamation suit against the Bear League, its leader Ann Bryant and two Tahoe-area residents. Although the named defendants didn’t necessarily write the posts, Lackey argues they’re ultimately responsible for repeated comments on their Facebook sites that are false and “designed to incite public rage.”
The activists say criticism of Lackey’s trapping and occasional euthanizing of the black bears is constitutionally protected free speech about a volatile public controversy. They maintain the bears have as much right to the woods as the tourists and expansive summer homes that increasingly encroach on their native habitat in the Sierra Nevada.
The mountainous area 200 miles northeast of San Francisco has seen a spike in bear conflicts in the past five years fueled by cyclical drought.
The dry conditions — on the mend now — make food scarce in the forest and sends bears on the prowl to satisfy a daily caloric intake equivalent to 80 cheeseburgers, sometimes breaking into cars and homes.
Some bear advocates in the area recently have adopted more aggressive tactics such as tampering with traps wildlife officials set to capture the animals and singling out residents who notify authorities about bears they think are dangerous. In recent years, an ex-state senator tried unsuccessfully to get a protective order against the Bear League, and a couple won a settlement from bear advocates over alleged threats.
Lackey’s lawsuit seeking unspecified damages says he’s suffered extreme emotional distress because of the “defamatory, slanderous and libelous smear campaign,” and remains fearful of violence directed at him.
Some harassment has occurred in person, but most appears on websites and online forums run by the Bear League, the “Lake Tahoe Wall of Shame” and “NDOW Watch Keeping Them Transparent,” according to the suit Reno lawyer Thomas Brennan filed in March in Washoe District Court. NDOW refers to the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
Some of the posts are anonymous, but the majority carry names. The most inflammatory remarks cited in the suit accuse Lackey of “murdering bears” and taking bribes from hunters who want to shoot them once they’re trapped and rereleased to the wild. Others posted Lackey’s home address and said he should be jailed. One suggested it was “maybe time for an assassination.”
Because they condoned the publication of false and defamatory statements, Brennan said the defendants are “negligently or otherwise legally responsible.”
From The State.