Read the original article by Benjamin Spillman at rgj.com here.
A Lake Tahoe-area animal activist is under a court order to steer clear from a Nevada bear biologist after the biologist accused the activist of stalking.
Documents filed with the court describe a tense encounter between animal rights activist Carolyn Stark of Incline Village and Nevada Department of Wildlife biologist Heather Reich.
It marks an escalation in the ongoing legal and public relations battle between NDOW and a group of Tahoe-area activists who bitterly oppose the state’s methods for managing bears.
“The escalation of their tactics is alarming and concerning,” said Jack Robb, NDOW’s deputy director.
When contacted by a reporter, Reich declined to comment on the encounter with Stark.
But her description of the Sept. 14 incident was included in Reno Justice Court records along with a temporary order for protection against Stark for stalking, aggravated stalking and harassment.
The temporary order will remain in effect until a scheduled Nov. 7 hearing for an extended order.
In a written statement, Stark denied stalking Reich. She also said she was unaware of the application for the temporary order until notified by a reporter.
“This did come as a surprise because I didn’t ‘stalk’ them on 9/14/18 as alleged so yes, I will be responding to this TPO,” Stark wrote.
Stark also defended her right to protest the department’s bear management policies.
“As you are aware, I disagree with many of NDoW’s policies with respect to trapping and euthanizing bears,” Stark wrote. “Therefore, wildlife advocates, such as myself, do have a right to peacefully and respectfully disagree with said policies.”
According to the records, the incident happened shortly after Reich released a tagged bear at the Tannenbaum Event Center on Mt. Rose Highway.
While returning to Reno with the empty bear trap in tow, Reich said she noticed she was being followed by someone driving a green Toyota Highlander.
The report states Reich called her husband, Derek Reich, an NDOW volunteer who assists her in the field, who was also following.
Derek Reich recognized the vehicle as belonging to Stark, who has a history of clashes with NDOW workers, based on a bumper sticker on the Highlander.
Heather Reich said she then called her boss, Robb, who told her to drive directly to NDOW headquarters on Sierra Center Drive in Reno.
During the drive, Reich said Stark drove aggressively and dangerously close to her state vehicle.
“Ms. Stark continued to follow me north on I-580, making any effort to stay directly behind me and the trap, even appearing to cut off a driver on the highway at one point,” Reich wrote in her statement.
In a separate statement, Derek Reich said Stark’s aggressive driving caused another driver to lock up brakes to avoid a collision.
Derek Reich wrote that it wasn’t the first time he witnessed aggressive tactics by activists.
He wrote, “This incident is typical of past experiences with bear activists in the Tahoe Basin to instill fear in NDOW employees through intimidation, harassment and aggressive tactics routinely,” adding, “I have personally observed these behaviors, been harassed myself and witnessed other NDOW employees being overtly intimidated.”
Heather Reich said Stark continued following her until she reached NDOW headquarters where Robb and a law enforcement officer were waiting.
“It is extremely unnerving on a personal level to have to be concerned for not only my own security but the security of a private individual if this situation had been different and I was taking the trap to set at a residence at the time of being followed,” Reich wrote.
She also wrote the encounter left her shaken.
“As I exited I-580 onto South Virginia and she continued her pursuit I began to react physically with shaking hands,” she wrote.
In addition to the statements from Heather and Derek Reich, the application for the protective order included printouts of Facebook comments by animal activists that included threats to NDOW workers.
Stark has previously clashed with NDOW.
Stark, a former board member for the Bear League, an activist group that protests NDOW’s bear management tactics, was among the defendants in a 2017 lawsuit by bear biologist Carl Lackey.
That lawsuit accused the Bear League and administrators of anti-NDOW Facebook pages, including Stark, of undertaking a, “vicious and calculated effort to damage his reputation and jeopardize his employment.”
And in 2015, a former state senator and Incline Village resident sought a protection order against Stark related to Bear League protests of a trap outside his house.
In that case, the judge denied the order because the trap had already been removed by the time the parties were in court. But he did warn group members about their tactics, according to reports on the case.