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Steve Searles, often referred to as the “Bear Whisperer” in the Town of Mammoth Lakes, was a contract employee. Budget woes are largely responsible for his leaving.

Steve Searles, Mammoth Lake’s Bear Whisperer, will no longer be coaxing bears away from the Town of Mammoth Lakes.

Employment information is highly protected, but the word is Searles was offered a new contract at reduced pay due to budget concerns and he declined the contract. According to Mammoth’s Town Manager Dan Holler, Searles had a contract with the Town but reported to the Mammoth Lakes Police Department.

“He was not a town employee. We will continue to address wildlife concerns,” Holler stated in an e-mail.

Searles did not return phone calls, but enough information is available in the LA Times and other articles on his unique profession to begin to understand his unique approach.

He was initially tasked with de-crittering the Town of persistent raccoons and coyotes. In 1996, his focus shifted to the black bears that found easy buffets among residential and restaurant trash cans. During his early years hunting and trapping in the area, he’d learned the black bears’ ways, their dens and turfs. One conclusion: they’ll eat anything in preparation for the long winter hibernation.

bears in campgrounds

Bears are attracted to the easy pickings found at campsites and garbage dumpsters looking for an easy meal.

According to the LA Times article, he learned how to encourage bears away from dumpsters by watching the technique of an alpha bear. Searles saw the chain of command in action and decided to assume the role of a bear he called Big. Instead of weapons, Searles used a non-lethal “bad bear, bad bear” in conjunction with air horns and firecrackers.

He was elevated to celebrity status a year into his bear program, speaking to local groups, working with restaurants and visitors, providing bear insight to scholars.

According to the Times article, It’s words, not bullets, for the ‘bear whisperer’ of the Eastern Sierra, Searles was keeping notes for his memoir. Hopefully, he’ll finish that memoir.



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