UPDATE: 1:30 pm Monday, Mammoth Police Chief Dan Watson said that DFG wildlife biologist Tim Taylor is on the way to assess the bear cubs and “determine if they can make it on their own.” Chief Watson said, “It’s Fish and Game’s call. We know where the cubs are.”
Watson also said that he was not there during the cub incident. He said, “I have a lot of confidence in Officer Schwartkopf and Steve Searles regarding the size of the cubs and whether they will make it.” The Chief repeated that he is aware DFG has the authority to make the determination.
The stark difference in wildlife management styles continues with Fish and Game on one side and the Mammoth community and Steve Searles on the other. The two sides differ on exactly what was said and what should have been done, but the truth remains that a mother bear was killed in traffic over the weekend in Mammoth and her two cubs were left on their own to survive. Searles and Mammoth Police say the cubs will die unless rescued.
Although Bishop Office Fish and Game refuses to communicate, Andrew Hughan of Fish and Game Public Information in Sacramento has consistently helped with news. He responded to our request for Fish and Game’s side of the incident.
Reports from the scene of the dead sow and live cubs in Mammoth said that Fish and Game Warden William Witzel communicated that the cubs could starve and be eaten by coyotes. Hughan said, “No game warden would say that.” Mammoth Police Officer Luke Schwartzkopf said both sides understood that this would be the fate of the cubs if they were left on their own.
Hughan said that the cubs were 40 pounds and “more than six or seven months old.” He said it is Fish and Game policy not to rescue these cubs. Hughan said, “The cubs were not dependent on the sow” and so should not be rescued. However, both Steve Searles and Officer Schwartzkopf said the cubs were dependent on their mother who was clearly lactating. The men said this was obvious when they saw the dead sow.
Searles said, “There is no possibility of survival of the cubs this winter. They were dependent on the lactating sow.” He said the seven-month-old cubs weighed 18 to 20 pounds. He said the cubs’ need for their mother’s milk was discussed in the group, including Fish and Game.
Searles said the point of the problem was “we could have controlled the situation – put the cubs in a cage and examined options to save them.” Searles had contacted the Tahoe Bear Rescue group which did agree to take the cubs.
Mr. Hughan said, “There is no reason to put the cubs in rehab. Their chances of survival are very good.” Hughan stood by Warden Witzel’s decision. “His understanding of the policy was clear. He talked to the Lieutenant.” Hughan said putting an animal in rehab is “a bad thing.” He said the warden “put the cubs in the woods” and checked on them. “They are fine,” he said. Mammoth Police and Searles strongly maintain the cubs will not make it through the winter and could have been saved.
The Fish and Game policy says orphaned cubs dependent on their mother are candidates for rehabilitation and should be caught, cared for and released when they are ready. Mr. Hughan said it was his understanding that the day of this incident, those gathered “never addressed rehab.”
Both Officer Schwartzkopf and Searles said they did tell Warden Witzel about the Tahoe group that would take the cubs. Schwartzkopf said, “Their policy is to let nature take it’s course. I understand both sides.” The Officer, Searles and countless residents of Mammoth Lakes stand on the side of protection of their animals.
Schwartzkopf said all involved understood “there will not be a good outcome for the cubs.”