Mammoth Lakes’ “Bear Whisperer” No Longer Under Contract Due to Budget Woes

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 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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william lambeth
william lambeth
1 year ago

I met Steve searles in 2011. He was answering a call in lake George area. I pulled over to talk with him. Super nice guy and an asset to the town of mammoth lakes. Too bad they defunded his job. The higher up politicians could have taken a small pay… Read more »

sugarmags
sugarmags
2 years ago

Mammoth’s bear program has been amazingly successful. So many mountain towns still have regular trash can pick up etc. The change in Mammoth is dramatic. Used to see big garbage bears every night going dumpster to dumpster. Now I rarely do. Steve was a huge part of that. Marketing Steve… Read more »

Charles O. Jones
Charles O. Jones
2 years ago

Definitely difficult economic times for many of us. How big of a pay cut has Mr. Holler taken?

Charles James
2 years ago

Charles, this may come as a surprise to you but Holler did, in fact, offer to take a pay cut. The Town Council members rejected his offer. Someone called our station to remind us of it after reading your comment and thought it unfair, so we promised to look into… Read more »

Charles O. Jones
Charles O. Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles James

Thank you for follow up. Leaders should be willing to take the same cuts they ask their workers to accept, IMO. I have no particular bone to pick with Mr. Holler. My comment was a legitimate question. I don’t see anything “unfair” about asking legitimate questions. And I appreciate you… Read more »

Louise Brooks
Louise Brooks
2 years ago

The town is losing an extraordinary expert on humane bear control. Surely other things could be trimmed from the budget. Louise Brooks

Rick O'Brien
Rick O'Brien
2 years ago
Reply to  Louise Brooks

He was offered his job at a reduced pay…it was his choice . If I had to take a cut in pay myself with the alternative of being jobless , with the world in major turmoil, I’d take the cut .

sugarmags
sugarmags
2 years ago
Reply to  Rick O'Brien

more likely, he recognized he would have been on the job but unpaid for some of the time. Hard not to respond to bear calls when it’s your job. I don’t see why they can’t compromise…how about 9 months per year? That’s realistic as to when the bears are problematic.

Joyce Kobashi
Joyce Kobashi
2 years ago

HOW SAD!!! At a time like this with All the Visitors coming to Town???

Joy Guyslinger
Joy Guyslinger
2 years ago

There was nothing special about Steve , all the so called bear whisperer stuff the locals already knew when I lived in Mammoth Lakes back in 1978. Plus he’s a very nosy neighbor , doesn’t mind his own business . He was a neighbor of mine in Mammoth 1978-81 always… Read more »

Ya, right
Ya, right
2 years ago
Reply to  Joy Guyslinger

Delusional much?

Father O'Twogirls
Father O'Twogirls
2 years ago

Maybe this will free up enough money to police Main St. It’s ridiculous. I feel as if I’m going to be pulled over for respecting the speed limit…creating a hazard! The empty “decoy” cruiser is funny. Fool ’em once.

Pops
Pops
2 years ago

Father O.T.,

Not having a wildlife officer will probably mean police responding to wildlife calls and having less time for Main Street.