Two generations of bears learn bad habits
Bears are relatively rare in Crowley Lake compared to Mammoth Lakes, but in the past few weeks, local residents have said at least one bear—and perhaps two—seem to be getting bolder.
“I get a lot of calls, a lot of concerns,” said Steve Searles, the Town of Mammoth Lakes’ wildlife specialist and known throughout the country as the “Bear Whisperer.” Most calls are about seeing a bear or about the bear getting into trash.
“Twenty years ago, there were few to no bears in Crowley, but in the last five or six years, it’s been much more common to get calls,” he said. “The bears have been more active, and there have been more sightings.”
In Mammoth, when Searles receives a call, he arrives at the scene, uses his “bear aversion” techniques, and eventually, the bears figure things out and stop eating trash and apples off orchard trees.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it works in Mono County.
“They (the public) don’t know I can’t do anything outside of Mammoth,” Searles said.
Searles’ authority to deal with “problem bears” is unique to Mammoth Lakes. Outside of Mammoth, in the unincorporated areas of the county—Mammoth Lakes is the only incorporated town—Searles has no authority.
That leaves the issue of how to deal with bears up to each individual community.
Crowley Lake has no requirements for bear-proof garbage dumpsters or food storage techniques, according to the community’s county supervisor, Fred Stump.
Some residents in the community pay for curbside garbage pickup, meaning they can leave their garbage out on the street until it gets picked up.
The climate in Crowley Lake is also milder than Mammoth, and fruit trees filled with apples, apricots, and cherries are common.
It adds up to an irresistible attraction to at least one bear, and, according to Searles, her cub as well.
“The cub of the sow is the second generation,” he said.
“The Mono County Sheriff’s Office, within the last 60 days, have only received two calls regarding any bear activity in the area,” said a sheriff’s department spokesperson in an email Wednesday.
Stump also said that he doesn’t know of any serious problems.
“I hear mostly about overturned garbage containers, or orchards raided, or that people have seen the bear,” he said.
Searles said he is concerned about these bears. With (at least) two bears working Crowley Lake, if something does not change in how the community responds to the bears’ presence, the story will not end well, he said.
“It’s all so predictable,” he said. “If (the bears) continue to not be afraid of people, they will have to be killed.”
It may sound cruel to yell at a bear that is doing nothing but wandering through your yard, but the best thing for a bear’s survival is to fear humans and to fear human food, he said.
“As the complaints mount, who will pay the price?” he said. “It will be the bears—not the county, not the sheriff’s department.”
The outcome to the bear story in Crowley Lake is up to Crowley Lake residents, Searles said.
“They have watched Mammoth make every mistake in the book and learn from it,” he said. “Last year was the worst drought on record and we didn’t shoot a single bear.”
A place to start is to do simple things, like take out the trash right before it gets picked up in the morning, he said.
“The household garbage that really smells, the good stuff, like food trash, that’s the most important,” he said. “Grass clippings, that kind of stuff, the bears aren’t interested in (at this point).”
The community of Paradise (south of Crowley) has a very effective method to deter bears—a giant, metal, bear-proof container that is stored outside of the community.
“It’s not state-of-the-art, but no bear can get to it,” he said.
Tips from Mono County Sheriff’s Department
According to the sheriff’s department, Mono County residents should consider the following list of suggestions for bear safety.
If you have a bear on your property, or come across a bear in your neighborhood, and feel your safety is at risk, please call Sheriff dispatch at 760-932-7549 ext. 7 for non-emergencies, 911 for emergency situations, or contact the California Department of Fish and Game, and they will gladly send a deputy to assist you.
Please do not take matters into your own hands.