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Mammoth, Me, and the Black Bear

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I have lived in Mammoth Lakes now for 20 years and every Spring I look forward to seeing Black Bears and their cubs. You really never know when or where they will appear, when they do, it is very exciting and you almost never have a camera handy.

Only Black Bears now live in California. The last Brown Bear was shot in the 1920s. It is ironic that the Grizzly Bear is the featured symbol on the California State Flag and State Seal, as they are now pretty much extinct in CA . Brown Bears too have been exterminated throughout the United States with the exception of the Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park.

dont feed our bearsThe bear population in Mammoth numbers around 30 today. Female bears (sows) can only give birth every two years since cubs are nurtured through their second winter.  The number of bears in Mammoth is more than there would be without man’s presence as some bears have become scavengers. The source of most of this artificial food is dumpsters that are not bear proof and food left in cars and campers.

Never leave any food in a car or camper. Bears are very intelligent and have an excellent sense of smell. Their claws are very good at ripping open cars to get at whatever food was left. Leaving items like chewing gum, toothpaste, candy, etc. can cause the bear to do extreme damage to your car or camper in search of food.

When I first moved to Mammoth there was a trash collection site across from what is now The Village at Mammoth. We would go down around dusk, park and wait for the bears to come down to dinner. It was sort of like a drive in movie; you brought beer and chips and made an evening of it.

Seeing a bear is not as easy now. I have seen them on the tee box at Sierra Star Golf Course where they seem to like to hang out. When they are on the tee box we allow them to take their time and we play through.

IMAG0560Another good place to see bears is up at the Lakes. Bears like fish and have discovered that if they wade the shoreline they will encounter fishermen who at the sight of the bear turn and run for safety leaving their stringers of fish for the bear. This works well with people having a picnic, once they see the Bear they take off leaving their coolers for the bears to carry off to see what’s for dinner.

I have seen them in the front yards of well-manicured gardens enjoying fresh flowers and green grass. I will never forget seeing two cubs feasting while mom was in the shadows making sure the cubs were ok.

It is also possible to see Bears crossing the road. This usually happens early in the morning, dawn or late in the day, dusk.  Please drive safely so we will have Bears for future generations.

Mammoth is very proactive in managing our bear population. We have hired Steve Searles who is known as the Bear Whisperer. Steve uses non-lethal methods like bang devises, rubber bullets, vocal commands, and even body postures to communicate with wild bear.  Since Steve came to town there have been no bear attacks and in fact many bears have been saved from being shot.

Enjoy the bears, respect the bears, they are a wild animal that should be observed from a safe distance. Be especially careful when encountering cubs, there is a mother close by who will protect her cubs if she feels any danger toward them.

For more information about the wildlife in Mammoth Lakes:

The truth about our bears:

Written by Mike Shuttleworth

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