Mammoth is not the only place in the county facing increasing bear problems these days, as the dry summer forces hungry bears out of the woods and into human communities.
Walker residents found that out first hand recently, when they tried to drop off their garbage at the county dump.
At least one bear has been active at the dump this year, to the point that the dump has been closed a few times to avoid human and bear encounters.
“I’m hearing all kinds of things,” said Tim Hansen, the county supervisor for the area. “I’m hearing the bears are getting aggressive, that when someone showed up to dump their garbage, the bag got pulled out of their hands.”
Although no specific incidence of a bear being aggressive to a human being, or touching a human being could be confirmed (there is no record of such activities in Mono County Sheriff’s Department reports, which recorded 12 bear incidents since March) the county supervisors said it was time to act before things got worse.
“Let’s not wait on this,” Hansen said. “I’ve already called Fish and Game and I think we need to do more.”
He said bear problems could grow beyond the Walker dump.
“I took a bag to the dump and it was closed due to the bear and so I put it in the back of my truck and went home and the other night, a bear visited my truck,” he said.
Hansen lives near the shore of Mono Lake, not known as bear habitat. Like in most non-Mammoth areas of the county, bears are relatively rare in the Lee Vining area. As such, the unincorporated areas of the county do not practice bear-problem prevention measures, like bear-proof dumpsters that Mammoth takes for granted.
At the heart of the problem at the Walker dump is the fact that the Walker dump trash compactor, unlike the Mammoth Lakes compactors, is accessible to a hungry bear due to how it’s designed, said the county’s solid waste manager, Tony Dublino.
“That’s what makes it an attractive nuisance,” he said. “I think we can weld something to keep the bear from getting their paws into the compactor. Mammoth tried this a few years ago when they had the same problem, and they have been successful and now they don’t have a bear problem.”
On Wednesday, Dublino said he and a county welder would take a look at what was working for Mammoth and bring that solution to the Walker dump.
“We hope that will be enough,” he said.
Other potential ideas would be expensive—an $8,000 fence or an even more expensive electric fence around the dump.
Depredation permits are not easily granted by the state’s Department of Fish and Game, he said, adding he would get more information about the conditions of a depredation permit and get back to the supervisors soon.