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

  1. william lambeth June 10, 2021 at 5:16 am #

    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 cut to keep his job. He has made mammoth lakes a better place to live for years keeping people safe and able to live with bears in their natural habitat. When a rogue bear goes on a breaking into cabin spree. With Steve gone who will do his job? No one knows the bears like Steve. I wish him well and he will be missed my man and by Bear.

  2. sugarmags July 20, 2020 at 8:50 am #

    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 would have reaped big benefits to the town. $75K is peanuts. Instead they approved spending $1 million for marketing the town to visitors at a time when travel is supposed to be curtailed. What are they thinking?

  3. Charles O. Jones July 16, 2020 at 6:49 am #

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

    • Charles James July 17, 2020 at 5:28 pm #

      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 it,and if true, share it with our readers.
      All of us, I suspect, know of someone, that has been terribly affected by these economic times, in many cases it is ourselves struggling. It’s hard to know what to make of all this and have a sense of where it will lead…or worse, end! Thanks for participating in the discussion.

      • Charles O. Jones July 20, 2020 at 2:40 pm #

        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 taking the time to answer.

  4. Louise Brooks July 15, 2020 at 10:45 am #

    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 July 15, 2020 at 7:55 pm #

      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 July 20, 2020 at 8:46 am #

        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.

  5. Joyce Kobashi July 15, 2020 at 10:01 am #

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

  6. Joy Guyslinger July 15, 2020 at 9:45 am #

    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 had the biggest noisiest parties . Then I was so lucky (haha) to have him as a neighbor again in Bishop from 2005 – 2008 . I lived on 10 acres and thought I had privacy where I could be topless on a hot summer day but no Steve had to point me out to a bunch of his friends standing on the edge of my property. Plus he’s a rat.

    • Ya, right July 15, 2020 at 4:09 pm #

      Delusional much?

  7. Father O'Twogirls July 15, 2020 at 7:13 am #

    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 July 17, 2020 at 6:47 pm #

      Father O.T.,

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


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