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Bad news for bears: no natural food, total wipeout of newborns predicted

March 23, 2012

A sow and her two cubs perch on a rock ledge in June Lake. All three of these bears were shot and killed last summer as a result of people feeding them, in turn teaching them that food is found in the homes of humans. When the bears kept coming back and sometimes breaking into homes, they were eventually put down by a local resident and authorities. Photo/Jesse Barlet

Mammoth’s bears will have their toughest season in years this spring and summer, Wildlife Specialist Steve Searles said this week.

As a result, he said residents of Mammoth who have grown accustomed to their usual co-habitation behavior need to keep a heads-up, starting now.

“I hope that I’m wrong but I would be remiss to not alert the people in the community,” he said.

“The bears are up early with absolutely no natural food out, and there are close to a dozen bears already out. We need to do the best as we do as a community and get on it right now.”

Searles made his remarks to the Town Council on Wednesday night, and he pulled no punches.

“There are 10 bears awake in our area right now,” he said, “and that’s seven weeks earlier, almost two months earlier, than they normally arise.

“With the drought conditions, it looks like there will be very little natural food for them. A dumpster was hit on Mono St. last night (Tuesday), a car was entered this week and a garage was entered this week. 

“This is months—months—before normal and with the lack of natural food that will be available during the summer it looks like it will be a really challenging year.”

There is a chance for a miracle, he said.

“The only thing that could possibly turn it around is if we get monsoonal rains like we enjoyed in the late 70s and early 80s.”

Searles said there probably would be a 100 percent mortality rate among newborns.

“Usually there is a 51 percent mortality rate in a good year,” he said. “This year, it would be predictable that we’d have very few newborns that will survive.”

The reason, he said, is that the bears are responding in just the way so much of the high country wildlife and plant life is responding to our low-snow winter and warm spring. Everything is early.

“The bears usually are 30 feet under the snowline,” he said. “You could snowmobile or walk right over the top of them and neither you nor the bear would know.

“They’re in tune with darkness. They don’t urinate, defecate; they don’t hydrate or feed for six months at this elevation.

“This year, every single den was open to the weather. So when we had days that were 60 degrees or zero degrees, all the bears were subject to those weather conditions, which is not natural to the bears. They’ve never experienced it in their short lives.

“They shouldn’t know whether it’s 12 noon or 12 midnight, during the dead time. It’s just black. Instead, with all the bears cycling with the sun comes up, they’re just like us: they wake up.”

Searles said there is a silver lining to the situation, though.

“The good news, going through this phenomenon of an extreme drought, there’s no place better in the world to accommodate the bears than here. But we need for us to do the very best we can.

“We really need to do all we can this year and do it earlier. These bears get hardwired to make (dumpsters) the source of most of their food, and that would be a disaster for them.”

Searles issued a warning in the form of a challenge for all the residents and visitors of Mammoth.

 “Go to your cars with a flashlight, search for any type of food that you may have left there during the winter. In the garage, make sure that in your trashcans are maintained. If you’ve lived in town for a long time and enjoyed the bears, and you never once have been inconvenienced by a bear, don’t jinx yourself.

“This is the year that a we will see a lot of bear activity, so I just wanted to speak to the council and the community that we need to start now with doing what we do best.”

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