Bear conundrum

With bear season in Mammoth Lakes comes the same old issue.  Wildlife Specialist Steve Searles still can’t use non-lethal weapons to manage problem bears on Forest Service land.  Mammoth Police Chief Dan Watson said he has tried to get Forest Service permission for Searles’ specialized work, but things, he said, “are at a stalemate.”

Chief Watson said he has tried to get Searles legally authorized to use his hazing, flash-bang and rubber bullet weapons involved in bear management.  The Forest Service has declined.  Officials point to a federal firearms ordinance.  Forest attorneys say unless someone is a peace officer, no lethal or non-lethal weapons are allowed on forest land. The Chief explained that the prohibition on the use of firearms or non-lethal weapons applies to developed properties in the forest – 150 yards from them.  He said that would cover streets, cabins, parking lots, or anywhere that people would be.  There is no prohibition farther away from developed locations.

Forest Service land entails most of the area where bears roam around Mammoth.  Right now, police officers have to use the non-lethal weapons.  Chief Watson said his officers work in a reactive mode to problem bears.  Searles, he said, is the one with the ability to spend two or three hours tracking, watching and disciplining problem bears.

The next thing the Chief will try to do is go for federal legislation and an exemption for Searles’ work.

Right now, the bears are very active in and around Mammoth Lakes.  When we spoke to the  Chief he had just gone out with Searles to deal with a young bear that has been stealing fish from tourists.  The bear, said the Chief, needed discipline and got hazed.

With the pressures now on the Mammoth Lakes Police Department with a huge overtime cut and the loss of a position, there won’t be much time for bear management.


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26 Responses to Bear conundrum

  1. John Barton June 26, 2012 at 4:53 pm #

    “….no lethal or non-lethal firearms are allowed on forest lands”. Hmmm. People are allowed to carry firearms on public lands. People hunt birds, deer, bear, hogs, antelope, sheep and bobcat on forest lands all over CA. Bear season opens 9/15 this year. If they want a few bears removed from the population around Mammoth, let some hunters know.

    • Dan Watson June 26, 2012 at 10:31 pm #

      I’d like to provide clarification to the article. It is my understanding that it is unlawful under Federal firearms regulations to discharge a firearm or use any weapon likely to cause great bodily injury within 150 yards of any developed part of the forest except by a peace officer. This would include roads, campgrounds, residences, etc. It is not illegal to possess a firearm nor to discharge a firearm beyond those boundaries unless it is within the Town limits.

  2. JJ June 26, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

    What about hunters, target shooters, etc on forest service land? Sounds like a weak excuse!

  3. Wayne Deja June 26, 2012 at 6:18 pm #

    The bears are also active up in Lone Pine Campground…went on a fishing trip overnight there about 3 weeks ago and was awakened at 1:30 AM by a bear and cub in my campsite attempting to get into the bear-proof storage box. After watching for a couple minutes,a loud shout and a big campfire chased them both off….P.S. good fishing too !!

  4. Pete June 26, 2012 at 7:09 pm #

    I want to thank MLPD and Steve Searles for their good work. Earlier this spring we had an aggressive bear that just wouldn’t stop trying to smash into the house, despite pot pounding and yelling. Finally, not wanting the bear to break into the house with my infant children, or alternately to be The Mean Guy That Shot the Bear, we called for help. MLPD and Searles showed up promptly despite the early 5:30 AM hour and were of great help. They were professional and knowledgable and I hope we can help them do their jobs of preventing property damage and injury while preserving our wonderful and colorful bears.

  5. Truth Seeker June 26, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

    Jon Kazmierski and the US Forest Service would rather shoot bears than allow Searles to do his job in the Lakes Basin. The Forest Service LEO refuses to respond to bear calls, so they set up the situation for bears to be shot.

    The fact remains that Searles worked the Lakes Basin for over a decade with no problems and no bears had to be shot for being bad. Since the Forest Service has threatened to arrest Searles, and or shoot him, bears are being killed every year by government hunters at the request of the Forest service.

    I predict that Kazmierski will call in government hunters (The ones recently the subject of an extensive investigative report by the Sacramento Bee) to shoot and kill the bear while it sits helpless in a trap.

    The cycle will continue courtsey of Jon Kazmierski and the US Forest Service and their refusal to comply with the wishes of the community.

    Just like closing roads in our community, the USFS takes the same approach. If it ain’t broke, we will break it because we can.

  6. Big Rick O'Brien June 26, 2012 at 11:39 pm #

    An air-powered paintball gun loaded with pepper-spray ammo is NOT classified as a firearm and would certainly get the bears attention. Also, I’m sure that somewhere out there, is some kind of electrical device (taser-like) developed for animals. The forest service can only ban the DISCHARGE of a firearm in the area’s described by the Chief, EXCEPT in a life-saving scenario.

    • Dan Watson June 27, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

      Good idea Big Rick, but we already tried that approach and it failed. In September 2010 I sent correspondence to the Forest Supervisor advising him that air-powered launchers and TASERs do not meet the legal definition a firearm. The response I got back cited 36 CFR Section 261.10 which prohibits the “discharging of a firearm or any other implement capable of taking human life, causing injury, or damaging property. . .within 150 yards of a residence, building, campsite, developed recreation site or occupied area, or across a National Forest System road or a body of water. . .” Since an air-powered paintball gun or TASER could cause injury, their attorneys advised that they are not authorized pursuant to the other sections of the code. So the fact that the devices you describe are not firearms does not make them legal.

      • wayback June 28, 2012 at 8:00 am #

        Chief Watson did anyone make the argument that a stick or a pocket knife can cause bodily injury? Would they be willing to outlaw those items also? Sometimes I wonder why the people in the Forest Service are so thick between the ears.

    • Truth Seeker June 27, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

      Great idea Big Rick. The problem is that the Forest Service views any air gun, including paint ball guns, as firearms. They make the rules so the bear program will not succeed.

      • Big Rick O'Brien June 27, 2012 at 11:28 pm #

        So I guess a slingshot, a pocket knife, or even a rock would be illegal too. Unbelievable.

  7. Really Fed up June 27, 2012 at 7:29 am #

    Here we go again! I as a supporter of Searles and his work as astonished but not really surprised about the fire arms issue. We heard about it when Chief Schinlie was in office and now with Watson. As I said before. If Steve needs the proper training and certificated or other academy training then he just needs to get over it and do it. It is insane to keep rehashing the same thing over and over again. Searles could have secured the proper credentials by now it’s been almost a decade.
    Don’t blame the stupid bureaucratic mess at the USFS for the short comings of Searles or the Town. Besides the powers to be at the USfS obviously does not like Searles or the techniques he uses.

    Steve , our family loves you , Please get the proper credentials so we can be done with this.

    • True Blue June 27, 2012 at 10:21 am #

      Steve would have a tough time at over 50 years old going through a six month police academy with a bunch of 20 something kids. The possibility of serious injury would be very high as well as a disability injury. There would be little chance he could complete the academy. It is a young man’s game.

      While sounding good, putting Steve through an academy is not the answer. It is also doubtful he could be away from his family for six months.

      • fed up June 27, 2012 at 9:29 pm #

        Well so are we to make rules specific to individuals. The more years pass by the older Steve gets. The community has been dealing with this same issue for too long. Steve get the training or hand off the job to someone who can do it without excuses.

        • Benett Kessler June 27, 2012 at 9:35 pm #

          Fed Up,

          Our news agency has reported on Steve for many years. He is the only one who has successfully handled the bear issue in Mammoth Lakes. It’s not so simple as you would like to assume. Before Steve, Fish and Game simply shot bears they didn’t know how to handle.
          Benett Kessler

  8. Rob June 27, 2012 at 8:15 am #

    When it comes to Bears people are the problem. Which means the problem will never go away.

  9. Gronk June 27, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    With Forest Service wanting to exercise their control over the Mammoth Lakes bear specialist, the
    Town should just defer every bear call to the USFS. They have all of these Law Enforcement people out doing public safety work, they sure as the devil could be doing something worthwhile.
    Bear calls are a public safety issue, their LEs should be handling these bear calls on FS land.
    If the bear call is on USFS land, tell the FS to take care of it; if it is a public safety issue, it is their
    responsibility to handle it, even if it is inside the Town limits.

  10. Jake June 27, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    The real truth…

    “As I said before. If Steve needs the proper training and certificated or other academy training then he just needs to get over it and do it. It is insane to keep rehashing the same thing over and over again. Searles could have secured the proper credentials by now it’s been almost a decade.”

    Steve is great, but go get your training pal. I agree he should not be allowed to do anything with out the same train our cops get. What a joke…

    • Reality Bites June 27, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

      Jake, how ironic that Searles trained our cops on all these devices over a deacde ago. He does not need to memorize the vehicle and penal codes and he will not be making felony arrests. He has more experience with deploying these devices and using the weapons on bears than the cops!!!

      • SierraFan June 28, 2012 at 9:09 am #

        Well said Reality!! Steve shouldn’t need to go through the full process that the PD does. Gun handling, Bear handling, non lethal, etc. along with his knowledge are what’s needed.

      • Jake June 28, 2012 at 9:22 am #

        Dude I think we know that! Duh… Steve still needs to do the training…. end of story!

        • SierraFan June 28, 2012 at 11:05 am #


          Dude, are you sure? He shouldn’t need the full training like a cop! 90 percent of our population couldn’t do that! Dude!!! Duh!!! What?????

  11. Jeremiah June 28, 2012 at 7:24 am #

    We don’t own the Bears.

  12. Just the facts June 28, 2012 at 7:47 am #

    I would like some hard evidence please, where any mauling has taken place in California by bears.
    These are not dangerous grizzly or Kodiac bears, but innocuous black or brown bears who harm no one.

  13. SierraFan June 28, 2012 at 9:10 am #


    Keep up the great work that you do, it’s very much appreciated!

  14. james June 28, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    chief Watson just deputize Searles as the bear cop. then he can work the lakes .


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