Bear Management Goes Full Circle

With roughly a month to go before the bears wake up, town officials continue to struggle with a bear management program for Mammoth. A bear management group has looked to other areas for clues. Each time they do, the road seems to lead back to Steve Searles.

In the Tahoe Basin, where bear-human issues need attention, the non-profit Tahoe Bear League handles bear calls from homeowners and residents. Today Mammoth officials are expected to consult with Ann Bryant who heads up the Bear League to find out how things work in Tahoe.

When we spoke to her by phone, Bryant explained that the 150 Bear League volunteers provide public education and report garbage violations. Some of the volunteers are trained on the non lethal bear deterrence methods like paint ball guns and pyrotechnics. A few are trained to go into a den to flush the bears out.

If this program sounds familiar, Bryant says that former Mammoth Wildlife Officer Steve Searles trained the bear volunteers and law enforcement officers in the five counties around the lake.

With a 24 hour bear hotline, the Tahoe volunteers use the adverse conditioning techniques developed by Searles to drive the bears away and teach them to stay away. Non-lethal techniques like pyrotechnics and paintball guns are used to flush the bears out of a home and to get the animal to go back into the woods, Bryant explained.

When the volunteers do need a lethal round, if a bear is hit by a car for instance, Bryant says that the Bear League calls the local police, sheriff’s department, or game warden. This is one difference between Tahoe and how Mammoth Lakes was run in the past. When Searles worked for the police department, he could fire lethal rounds.

For years, Steve Searles and the Mammoth Police were able to handle the bears in town, but the Tahoe Basin is a far larger area, with numerous towns, cities and communities. It can take up to an hour and a half to drive between calls. Bryant calls the closest of the 150 volunteers to respond to a call.

For situations that are out of the ordinary, the Bear League volunteers go back to the source, Steve Searles. We go to Steve for all of our problems, Bryant says.

In Mammoth, officials cant quite seem to work with Searles, in spite of overwhelming public support for his work. The bear management committee, made up of the town manager, the police chief, Mayor Skip Harvey, and Mayor Pro Tem Wendy Sugimura, even traveled to Yosemite to check the bear program in the park. Once again, Searles had a hand in training that program too.

Meanwhile the bears will start to wake up and lumber into town in about a month or so.

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