Killing a bear in Mammoth Lakes is no small matter. The political will of the community leans strongly toward preservation of wildlife. Police Chief Dan Watson said that’s what Police Sergeant Karen Smart had in mind when she took the responsibility to shoot and kill the problem bear in the Lakes Basin last week.
Town chat in Mammoth had pointed fingers at Sergeant Smart for the bear kill described by some as inhumane, requiring four shots to finally take the life of the animal. Police Chief Watson stands solidly behind his sergeant. In response to questions about the bear shooting, Chief Watson said that Sergeant Smart was “acting as an agent for the property owner who had a depredation permit for the bear” that had broken into some 19 cabins. Chief Watson said on the day the bear was shot, Wildlife Specialist Steve Searles observed the bear “break into two cabins and attempt to get into a third.”
The Chief said Searles positively identified the bear as the offending animal. Chief Watson said, “Because Searles is not legally authorized to use firearms in developed areas of the forest, he notified the MLPD which resulted in the response of Sergeant Smart and two other officers.”
The Chief said that after briefing by Searles, Sergeant Smart made the decision that she, as the highest ranking officer at the scene, would be the one to put down the bear. Chief Watson said that Smart explained to him that she made that decision because she knew that killing a bear “would be controversial with some people and that she felt it appropriate as the senior officer that she be the one to answer the criticism.”
Chief Watson said no one in the MLPD wants to take a bear under these circumstances. The Chief said, “I respect her maturity, leadership, and decision to be the one to fill the depredation permit.” Chief Watson said an adult bear is not easy to kill with one shot. He said he understands she fired four rounds and that all of them “struck the bear in vital areas.” He said Searles was with her and advising her. The Chief said the bear died quickly. Not instantly, but humanely. He said, “I have no problems at all with her marksmanship.” The Chief added that “it is easy to be a ‘Monday morning quarterback’ and critique the actions of someone else afterwards. The facts are,” he said, “Sergeant Smart had a difficult task to do and she performed as required. Any criticism of her actions at this time is unwarranted.”