Fish and Game and Mammoth still at odds over bears

One of the surviving bear cubs photographed by Gene Stephan of Rough and Ready.

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.”


36 Responses to Fish and Game and Mammoth still at odds over bears

  1. Anonymous September 23, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

    This is inhumane!!! Starve and be eaten by coyotes???? Come on… If the bears were obviously in need for their mother ,then they should be taken in!! Tonight I was headi home on 203 and I saw a little black bear book it across the freeway, I was completely shocked. Fish and game needs to swallow their pride and do something about this.

    • Baby Jesus September 24, 2012 at 9:46 am #

      Do something about what? Speeding cars? Black top freeways cutting through the country? Wildlife? Hungry coyotes? Hungry Bears? Dumb people? I’m Sorry to break this to you but this is called LIFE – sometimes bad things happen.

      Is a starving coyote in the winter a good thing, but a starving bear isn’t? Life feeds on life…feeds on life… feeds on life.

      Feel better?

      • JeanGenie September 24, 2012 at 10:59 am #

        I would like to know what is “natural” about an animal being killed by a vehicle? Since the mother’s demise was not “natural” the cubs should be rescued. I believe that deer that are orphaned may actually stand a better chance because they live in a group and look after each other, but not so with bears.
        Another notch in DFG’s saddle, they are a rotten organization all the way through.

      • JeanGenie September 24, 2012 at 11:02 am #

        You ought to get a nickname that is a little bit more like your opinions, like Callous Cathy, because your pen name does not reflect any similiarity to Jesus.

      • SierraFan September 24, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

        Baby Jesus (Not a chance but I guess you chose that name to be ridiculous)

        You have got to be kidding! You’re taking two very different situation and making them 1. If we were talking about bears that were in the back country we would;t be discussing this but we’re talking about 2 cubs that had an opportunity to be saved and then basically thrown to the Coyotes. In no way is this the same as the natural process we all know exists. Thanks Jean Jeanie for

      • Anonymous September 25, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

        A mother bear being killed by a car is not natural….And the cubs need to be taken in if it is true that they were dependent on their mothers milk. Imagine this: bears are not made of steel, just like us they require a certain amount of care when they are young, and they can’t just be eating anything. I’m no biologist or anything in that area, in fact i’m just 16 and i do know that this is “LIFE”, but the fact is, that is not NATURAL. Do you think a mother being killed by a speeding car and her two cubs is natural? No, it’s not. This report of having the cubs go out by themselves, and “most likely survive”, is complete bull of Fish and Game covering their asses.

  2. Mammoth Knows September 23, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

    This is where the citizen journalist could really help out. Many people on scene were taking pictures and video of the Bear Cubs. Get these pictures and video to Benett. She can then Email them to a PHD level Bear Researcher who does not work for DFG. The researcher should be able to estimate the age and weight of the Bear Cubs and knowing what the winters are like in Mammoth, tell us what chance the bears have to survive. I am betting zero chance.

    I am also betting that DFG is lying and will continue to do so since they are committed now to their BS story.

    Officer (not sergeant Schwartzkopf) has lived in Mammoth Lakes for well over 3 decades. He has an incredible reputation for honesty in this small community. If he says that the female bear was lactating, you can take that to the bank! If the cubs were feeding on mother’s milk, what would be their protein source this fall to fatten up enough to survive through the winter?

    Searles has observed Mammoth bears for over 20 years and is well respected in the bear research community. He knows that these first year Bear Cubs will drink mothers milk well into the following year. The DFG is basing their comments on Black Bear studies in Alabama and other southern states that do not have winters like Mammoth Lakes at over 8,000 feet.

    When DFG is proven wrong, they will simply make something else up. Wait and see.

    • Fred September 24, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

      Please provide credible evidence that the town’s wildlife officer is “well respected in the bear research community.” What professional wildlife and science organizations is he a member of? Where is his name in peer reviewed science journals? What wide spread consensus among wildlife professionals exists to suggest he is well respected?

      This wildlife officer did not invent hazing or its tools. Hazing has been around since the early 70’s and 80’s, perhaps earlier in the case of Yosemite and Yellowstone. Some literature suggest hazing to be ineffective and even harmful. Research in Alaska suggests that 88% of black bears return to the same locations, with the same behavior, within a short term (less than a week) after hazing techniques have been employed. There is some evidence that hazing may, in fact, result in more aggressive bear behavior toward humans.

      The bear management employees at Yosemite National Park were not trained in hazing techniques by the town’s wildlife officer. Specific inquiries into this situation have been made more than once, by more than one person. The entire community of Mammoth Lakes is not behind this officer and against DFG. Based on dozens of conversations I’ve had with community members the number of people who support this officer are far fewer than one might conclude given the type and amount of publicity of him. Many people express embarrassment. One thing common to these people is the fear that they will be run over by “the bandwagon” should they openly express their viewpoints given the emotional and under informed nature of those who do speak out.

      This officer has not been entirely forthcoming regarding past interactions between himself and DFG personnel, e.g. “Arthur the bear.” He has not fully related the concerns of other natural resource agencies and his relationships with them as well.

      One problem at play here is the naivety of the population in regard to natural processes, especially regarding wildlife. People from urban areas and those who have recently moved from one, perhaps within the last 10-15 years do not possess the knowledge to properly evaluate or observe natural processes. Many do not know the meaning of the word ecology, let alone understand how it works. They tend to place human values on wild species, just take a look at the words here, “orphaned,” “little bear cubs” and similar. They don’t understand that more often than not, their help causes harm.

    • SierraFan September 24, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

      Very well said Mammoth Knows!!

  3. Bill September 23, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

    How about all the doe deer that get hit by cars on 395? Their fawn suffer the same fate as these bear cubs…

    I agree, however, that if given the chance to capture these cubs – perhaps they should have been rescued.

    We need to address the loss of local wildlife by automobiles. This is a much too common problem to ignore.

    I often drive 203/395 early in the morning and get passed by speeding autos and big rigs that are clueless about daily migrations of deer and bears. CHP should enforce speed limits during these hours. Signage has been increased but it is not enough!!!!

    Speeding kills wildlife.

  4. Big AL September 23, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

    Well now we know more of the picture and a better understanding .. definitely two different points of view.

    And I appreciate more information from both sides. reading what the MLPD officer had to say was very enlightening of the situation that took place.

    I have to say in all honesty reading this .. I see that the warden was not so callous as what was made out to be in the original article. That is the trouble when only one side is what you have to work with.

    A lot of people got really worked up over this, that is what I was getting at, that I hope there would be more information about this to show a more truer picture.

    • Reality Bites September 24, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

      Big Al, the Warden himself told witnesses that the bear cubs would die and be eaten by coyotes. The new DFG story is that the Warden determined the cubs are old enough to survive on their own and they will be fine and survive the winter.

      Ofc. Schwartzcopf and Searles personally saw that the mother bear was lactating and that the cubs were not weaned. Who do you think has more first hand experience observing lactating female bears and bear cubs, Searles or some kid just out of the DFG Academy?

      Now the DFG changes their story that essentially claims the Warden never told the witnesses what they heard him say and the Warden did not see what the witnesses saw. Do you really thing Searles and Schwartzkopf would fabricate facts with many other witnesses around?

      DFG’s is now asking the public this: “Are you going to believe us or your lying eyes?”

      DFG is doing classic spin, when caught lying, just tell a bigger lie.

      • Big AL September 25, 2012 at 12:07 am #

        Reality .. where did I dispute his remark about the coyotes .. I don’t dispute that, I merely referenced it as to the way of thinking that wild life people have in cases like this.

        The original report and this second report both correlate the original statement about coyote food and the size of the bears.

        I was not there so I can not personally vouch for either side, only to go on what was reported here in these articles and try to form an opinion on the incident.

        I can’t personally vouch for either side, as I do not know them personally, or much about their reputations, as is the case with some others posting on this.

        If you were there, then you know first hand, that is .. if you were in close enough proximity to hear all of the conversation, or to see that the bear sow was lactating. If you were not, then you are in the same boat as the rest of us.

  5. Big Rick OB September 24, 2012 at 2:11 am #

    I think it’s pretty safe to say that Warden W. has alienated an entire town. Someday, his crappy demeanor is gonna get him into a serious jam with somebody that’s a little bit tougher , and he’ll expect, or hope, for help from the local citizenry. I’m thinkin’ he won’t get any.

    • Fred September 24, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

      Two sides to this coin. As pointed out in my post above DFG has not alienated an entire town. I think the town has alienated DFG in many ways. Every action they take in and around town is subject to a large quantity of uninformed criticism to the point that they don’t feel comfortable doing their jobs here. Some exploit this lack of knowledge for their own purposes.

      • Big AL September 25, 2012 at 12:14 am #

        I think so Fred … it is no wonder local fish and game doesn’t want to respond to certain people. Doesn’t make it right but, if you are damned for what you do and for what you don’t do .. right or wrong .. why would you want to take a chance?

        There are some good people who try to do what is right, but for the actions of some . the whole is damned.

        That is what I’m seeing in this more as the comments seem to go that route. Two sides of the story, which is right?

  6. Citizen-Mammoth Lakes September 24, 2012 at 7:35 am #

    It isn’t like the mother died of natural causes, she died in a car accident. Fish and game should do the right thing and allow these bears to be rescued, there is still time! All involved obviously know that if something is not done, the bears will starve on their own. We live in troubled times as it is, we have an opportunity for a better outcome and should take advantage of it.

  7. Eastern Sierra local September 24, 2012 at 8:15 am #

    The Bishop Office of Fish and Game has always made up their own rules; it’s especially rampant now that all the management there has moved onto other locations and/or promotions with LADWP.

  8. ferdinand lopez September 24, 2012 at 8:53 am #

    real simple,forget policies,forget pride,save the bears!

    • SierraFan September 24, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

      You’re right…. do what you know is right in your heart and we would be praising the DFG for there decisions rather than hitting them with it.

  9. Ken Warner September 24, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    The current picture of one of the surviving bears shows a bear that looks capable of surviving on it’s own given a decent supply of food which has been in short supply for all bears this year.
    If Winter comes late again this year and gives the bear a couple more months of feeding it might make it. But it is hard to tell from just one small picture. The original picture showed a much, much younger bear that clearly would not survive on it’s own.

    • Benett Kessler September 24, 2012 at 10:17 am #

      Ken, I initially believed the image I posted was equivalent to the reported 18 pound bear. Not so.
      However, Searles and Officer Schwartkopf strongly pointed out that the cubs were still suckling their
      mother and would not yet have the ability to survive on their own. Apparently bears live from their
      mothers for as long as two seasons. The main question – the Fish and Game code says sow-dependent
      cubs should be rescued. Why did the response go the way it did?

      • Ken Warner September 24, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

        Steve knows much more than anything I could know. I hope the two bear cubs make it.

      • Fred September 24, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

        If the sow had been killed before the arrival of the officers, how did anyone know that her offspring were suckling?

        • Benett Kessler September 24, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

          The body of the mother was obviously full of milk. The Police Chief, Officer Schwartz and Steve Searles, and I am told Warden Witzel, all made note of it.

          • Fred October 1, 2012 at 6:36 pm #

            Human mothers often have engorged breasts for quite some time after they stop nursing their child. Some report being able to squeeze milk out weeks after. If the physiology of bears is similar the cubs may have been weaned prior to the auto accident.

          • Benett Kessler October 2, 2012 at 11:57 am #

            Perhaps “may” is the operative word. We will be emailing Sacramento DFG to find out about Tim Taylor’s thinking regarding the
            apparent fact that the cubs were still nursing and that Fish and Game code requires rescue to suckling, orphaned cubs.
            Benett Kessler

    • Reality Bites September 24, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

      Ken, please tell us about all your training and experience in bear biology.

  10. JeanGenie September 24, 2012 at 11:08 am #

    One more thing. If this had occurred out of the sight and control of people who could have helped these cubs that’s a different story, but to let the poor little guys a slow death, I think we should have some civil disobedience here, who cares what the DFG nazis say. I would like to help if I can!

    • SierraFan September 24, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

      You know they (DFG) will spin this as they have already tried. You wish folks would just come out and say….. “Hey, we made a terrible error in judgement” but instead, they point fingers away from their own misgivings. I tend to believe Steve, the MLPD and the others that were interviewed over the DFG any day!!

    • Common Sense September 24, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

      For all the whackos on here who have ran their ignorant mouths about this situation I would like to know your qualifications and training regarding wildlife? Most likely based on the discovery channel or animal planet. DFG knows whats best for the bears because of their training and experience on all types of wildlife. DFG does not come to your place of employment and tell you how to do your job.

  11. Fred September 24, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    No matter how competent the wildlife rehab center is, no matter how hard they try, some degree of humanization will be imprinted There are no guaranties that animals sent to these centers will survive in the wild. Some data suggest that the survival rate of some species is increasing as additional knowledge of techniques is gained and as the knowledge of “wildlife rehabilitation practitioners” increases. However, to say that sending bear cubs to a center is the know all, give all solution is not realistic.

  12. Gina September 24, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    I just e-mailed this to FOX 11 news. This is sickening to think that these poor babies have to suffer needlessly. I hope these babies get the help they need, i’m going to do my best to see that they do!!!!

  13. Jeremiah's Alter Ego September 24, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

    Gina I agree this way uncool. Good on you.
    It reminds me of the time when that top guy for CA fish and game goes to another state to kill something that he would put people in jail for here.
    Aren’t the ones working for CA fish and game supposed to care about what they are supposed to be protecting???

  14. Tourbillon September 24, 2012 at 3:30 pm #

    “Their policy is to let nature take it’s course. I understand both sides” Schwartzkopf said.

    Try understanding this. Getting whacked by a car by human intervention is not nature taking its course. Accordingly, neither is saving these bears by human intervention. There are no two sides. Next excuse?

    • Big AL September 25, 2012 at 12:40 am #

      Good point too … Tourbillon hard as it is for some .. there is no simple natural choice of action, only unnatural action to makes us feel better about an unnatural event.

      All else fails .. take the bears and give them to a zoo somewhere .. where they can improve the gene pool with new genes maybe?


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