By Associated Press - Monday, October 15, 2018

RENO, Nev. (AP) - A judge has issued a temporary protective order to keep a Lake Tahoe activist away from a state bear biologist who says the woman stalked her during a long-running dispute over the capture of nuisance bears.

Court documents describe a tense encounter on a highway between animal rights activist Carolyn Stark of Incline Village and Nevada Department of Wildlife biologist Heather Reich, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported.

Reich said Stark drove aggressively and dangerously close to her state vehicle, appearing to cut off other vehicles on Interstate 580.

The protective order is the latest development in a yearslong legal and public relations battle between the agency and a group of activists who oppose state methods for managing bears.

Agency Deputy Director Jack Robb says the escalation of the activists’ tactics is “alarming and concerning.”

Stark denies she stalked the biologist and says she intends to respond to the court order that cites allegations of stalking, aggravated stalking and harassment. A hearing on whether to extend the order is scheduled Nov. 7.

Preservationists argue that bears lived at Tahoe centuries before development began to intrude on their habitat, fueling a growing number of conflicts with humans, primarily resulting from failure to adequately secure food and garbage.

Stark, who has been involved in previous legal battles alleging harassment of state officials, said in a statement provided to the Gazette Journal that she disagrees with many of the state’s policies regarding trapping and euthanizing bears.

“Therefore, wildlife advocates, such as myself, do have a right to peacefully and respectfully disagree with said policies,” she said.

The Sept. 14 incident cited in the order occurred shortly after Reich released a tagged bear from a trap on the Mt. Rose Highway.

She was towing the empty trap to Reno when she noticed she was being followed by a green Toyota Highlander. She called her husband, Derek Reich, a department volunteer who assists her in the field and was following her SUV in another vehicle.

Her husband said he recognized the other vehicle as belonging to Stark, so Reich called her supervisor, who told her to drive directly to department headquarters in Reno.

Derek Reich wrote in a complaint that the incident was “typical of past experiences with bear activists in the Tahoe Basin to instill fear in NDOW employees through intimidation, harassment and aggressive tactics routinely.”

He said he had been harassed himself and witnessed other department employees being intimidated.

Heather Reich said her hands were shaking by the time she exited the interstate.

Stark, a former board member of the Bear League - an activist group that protests bear management tactics - was among the defendants in a 2017 lawsuit brought by bear biologist Carl Lackey.

That lawsuit accused the Bear League, including Stark, and administrators of undertaking a “vicious and calculated effort to damage his reputation and jeopardize his employment.”

In 2015, a former state senator and Incline Village resident sought a protection order against Stark and others related to Bear League protests of a trap outside his house.

The judge denied the order because the trap had already been removed by the time the parties were in court. He did warn group members about their tactics, according to reports on the case.

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