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Bears are out and about

May 18, 2011

Black bears like this sow and her two cubs are curious and intelligent, and always, always on the lookout for enough calories to keep their hundreds of pounds of bear running. Photo/Stephanie Staley

Mammoth’s bears are out and about again, but that doesn’t mean they are going to go after the pizza crust in your car.

No. This time of year, Mammoth’s bears are going green.

As in veggie green, says Steve Searles, Mammoth’s own bear whisperer.

“The [bears] have been holed up all winter, and it’s been a long winter. Right now, there’s little available natural food out. But they need something to purge everything out. So, they aren’t that interested in your pizza, your burgers,” Searles said.

“Their biosystems are driven by the need for greens. They are looking for natural foods like grasses and plants. They are more apt to go after the half rotten cabbage left out than they are the pizza.”

That means Mammoth’s bears are most likely now going to be hanging out near what Searles calls the “green line” where the snow is retreating and leaving behind green growing things.

More alarmingly, they are also attracted to the sides of roads.

“Roads have a convex shape that drains moisture to the side of the road,” Searles said.

“They also attract heat (due to black asphalt and being open to sunlight), so the first green plants of the year often come up on roadsides,” he said. And the occasional “hotdog end thrown out the window” doesn’t help either, he said.

Roads mean cars. Bears and cars don’t mix. The connection is clear.

“Watch out,” Searles said. “Slow down.”

Searles observed that as wonderful as the fascination with bears is, right now, deer are animals to be hyper-aware of.

“The big winter is making our highways a bottleneck,” he said. Due to snow still on the ground in so many of the deer’s normal spring grazing areas, the new growth on the highway and gravel road edges is very attractive to deer.

“Deer and vehicle collisions caused over $100,000 of damage last year and put some people into the critical care unit. They even caused a fatality (local climber John Fischer died last year near Conway Summit when a deer collided with his motorcycle),” he said.

“And that’s not all. If you hit a deer on the road, other animals are attracted to it, coyotes, birds of prey, raccoons, you name it,” he said.

The fact that so many other animals could unwittingly be dragged into the net of tragedy is yet another reason to think ahead when you are driving Eastern Sierra roads this spring, he said.

“This is our community. We need to take care of it,” he said.

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