Bear activity has picked up dramatically over the last several weeks, according to wildlife experts up and down the Eastern Sierra.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in this room who hasn’t seen a bear this week,” said Wildlife Specialist Steve Searles during the last open meeting of the Town Council on Aug. 1.
“When I was in front of you two weeks ago, I was saying how proud I was of the community and what a fantastic job they were doing. I’m sad to say that over the last week or 10 days, people may have let down their guard.
“I don’t know what’s going on. But we have a lot of dumpsters open and a lot of activity, and the bears are getting bad food that they don’t need.”
This week, both the Mammoth Lakes Police Department and the Inyo National Forest issued their own bear advisories, saying bear activity is on a dramatic rise on the streets and in particular vehicles in town and in campsites such as those in the Lakes Basin.
“Steve and MLPD officers have been handling multiple bear calls each day,” wrote the MLPD in a press release.
“On Aug. 7, Tuesday, they responded to a residence where a bear had spent several hours in a parked car doing considerable damage. Several other cars containing food have also been broken into.”
Meanwhile, public information officer Nancy Upham at the Inyo issued a stern warning to people in the campgrounds.
“The black bear populations of the Sierra Nevada rely upon plants and shrubs to survive,” she wrote in a press release.
“A shortage of native food sources for these animals is forcing bears to seek alternative food sources, including human food and trash.
“Allowing bears to obtain human food can be fatal for an animal. Bears can become habituated to human food and can become aggressive in their pursuit of food.
“A habituated bear may become a human safety concern and have to be destroyed. Please do not make the mistake of feeding the bears and contributing to their potential destruction.
“The Forest Service is asking the public to help keep the wildlife wild. Do not feed bears. Always know where your food is and ensure that it is safely locked when you are not immediately near it.”
Searles said during the council meeting that the bear behavior would increase for the next six weeks.
“We’re really, really busy out there,” he said. “We had two traffic collisions this week and other instances with bears. The next 90 days are going to be busy.
“This is not the peak of the season and we should expect more activity.”
Upham iterated Searles’ remarks.
“Earlier in the summer, the problem was primarily in the Lakes Basin,” she wrote in the press release, “where one bear in particular became proficient at stealing anglers’ fish and raiding unsecured ice chests and back packs.
“In the past few weeks, the problem has moved into town.
“As always, one of the biggest problems is unsecured dumpsters. It is vitally important for businesses, residents, and visitors to always properly secure dumpsters.
“All food, ice chests, and sweet smelling products like shampoo should never be left outdoors or in a car overnight. Bears are highly intelligent animals and when they see an ice chest they know it may contain food.
“So if a bear sees an ice chest in the back of a car or truck, they will figure out a way to get into the ice chest, and it’s usually an expensive repair.”
At the police department, officers said they are relying heavily on human residents and visitors to do their parts.
“The drought conditions in the Eastern Sierra have resulted in a reduction in natural food for bears. As a result, the bears are beginning to behave more like they typically do in September or October,” the department said in its press release.
“As their natural food sources dwindle, they become more reliant on food from people. Bears that have been conditioned to rely on humans for food become unmanageable and unfortunately, sometimes have to be destroyed.”
“Please help keep our bears healthy. Enjoy their presence, but do not encourage behavior that is harmful to them.”
Both the MLPD and the Forest Service issued the following guidelines:
• Never leave food out for bears or other wild animals
• Securely store food and fragrant items such as shampoo and deodorant in an airtight container. When camping, use a bear-proof box.
• Don’t leave food, even in a cooler, in a car, tent, or other unsecure location.
• Don’t leave pet food outdoors or use a bird feeder. Bears love bird seed.
• Always deposit trash in a bear proof trash can or dumpster.
• Keep your car locked and your garage door closed.
• Close and lock ground floor windows when no one is home.
For more information in the Inyo, please call or visit any Forest Service visitor center or Ranger Station, including the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center in Lee Vining (760-647-3044), the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center (760-924-5500), the White Mountain Ranger Station in Bishop 760-873-2500 or the InterAgency Visitor Center in Lone Pine (760-876-6222).
For more information on co-existing with wildlife or to report a bear problem, contact the Town’s Wildlife Specialist Steve Searles at 760-937-BEAR.