Tempers flare after bear bites man at arts fest

Gaye Mueller has a bee in her bonnet over bears in her booths.
The president of the Mono Council for the Arts and producer of Mammoth’s Labor Day Festival of the Arts, has had it up to here with the critters. One of them, a small, 150-pounder, last Friday night chomped a vendor on the arm. According to the victim, potter Donald Jower, 64, of El Cerrito (Contra Costa County) the bear and he ran into each other at an adjacent food vendor’s booth.
“I’m on a mission now,” Mueller said, “to get this taken care of, and to get (MLPD Wildlife Specialist) Steve Searles out here. I think he needs to be here at night for all the events we have here. There was a bear here Friday afternoon, just sleeping in the sand pit, waiting.”
Jower suffered two puncture wounds to his upper right arm and received treatment at Mammoth Hospital, but was back at his booth the next day.
The next night, a pair of bears couldn’t resist the opportunity to shop, nosing around three vendors’ booths near the back of the venue at Sam’s Woods. There were no injuries or damage in that incident.
“We deal with this every year. On Thursday night, one of the artists was sleeping in his van, all by himself, and there were three bears, pushing on his van. So it’s now an issue.”
Mueller and Jower both showed up at the town’s regularly-scheduled Wildlife Committee meeting on Tuesday afternoon to tell their stories, and were joined by Lakes Basin homeowners, who complained that their houses have come under siege by a bear that is routinely ripping off shutters, damaging screens and getting into the cabins.
Searles, a member of the committee, said that the arts festival is a special treat for the bears. He said Sam’s Woods is basically a bear thoroughfare even when events aren’t happening. He said this year, the food vendor (who was cited, according to MLPD Sgt. Karen Smart) was at fault, and he said garbage was piled up outside of full trash bins.
The Lakes Basin homeowners, meanwhile, have a more daunting situation, owing to continuing confusion over law enforcement jurisdiction. Technically in the Town of Mammoth Lakes, the Falls Tract cabins are on Forest Service property, and the state’s Fish and Game Department is in charge of policing the bears.
MLPD interim chief Dan Watson told the group of homeowners that they should call the police in such incidents.
Probably the person who was least fazed over the bear situation was Jower, who was returning from the porta-potties at about dusk.
“I thought it was a dog at first,” he said. “I heard a growl, turned around and boop! The bear bit me. It was pretty startling, but I don’t think it was that bad. I’ve been hurt worse. I think I spooked him. He really wasn’t after me.
“He was just having a good old time, eating what he was eating. It happened so fast it was kind of like getting knocked down in football.”
Even so, Mueller said, she’s had enough. “We have crossed the bridge.”