"Dead bears learn nothing"
February 13, 2020 7:28 PM   Subscribe

Steve Searles is not really a cop, not really a civilian; he lives in limbo between those two worlds. […] Searles has carved out a niche and a career as Mammoth Lakes’ “bear whisperer,” a protector of the wild things that roam the night: the ubiquitous bears, deer, coyotes and all manner of high-country cat. He protects the residents and the 2.5 million annual visitors too, though they have the numerical advantage. They also have guns and cars … warm beds and cozy, muffin-scented kitchens. (Chris Erskine, LA Times)
The bears mean no harm, generally, a trait Searles picked up on early. But he knew that open access to food scraps and bird feeders had led to bear congestion and damage to homes and property, drawing a backlash among residents.

Bears don’t eat; they gorge, typically 22 hours a day in the pre-winter season.

They will gnaw a tail light, or pick at a seam on a car till they can get to the food inside; occasionally, they activate an air bag, wreaking havoc when they can’t wiggle out. In many ways, they’re smarter than dogs, Searles says, and surprisingly adept at doorknobs and latches, or slamming Dumpsters to the ground to break a lock.

“If they had thumbs, they’d be driving these cars away,” says Mammoth Lakes Police Lt. Eric Hugelman, who oversees Searles.

They are clever yet cartoonish, their eagerness a liability. Searles once had to tackle a cub to remove a Costco snack jar stuck on the young bear’s head.

“Even a cub is 10 times stronger than I am,” he says respectfully.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (8 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Lovely story. Would that we were all as wise as Searles.
posted by adam hominem at 7:55 PM on February 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

My Mom's best friend lives in Mammoth in a house with a basement-ish space with a freezer and room for storage. A few winters ago, said friend noticed an ODOR wafting upwards into her kitchen. A bad odor.

She went downstairs to storage room, found a Large Bear hibernating and saw the freezer was open and empty. The bear had eaten all of the Costco frozen goodies and then decided to deep sleep in the basement.

Mr. Searles was the man who arrived to solve the problem of the Bear Who Had Not Bathed Before Hibernating in the Basement.

Knowing my Mom's friend, if said bear had not smelled so ripe, she would have let him stay until spring.

And what was in the freezer? Boxes and boxes of Costco Corn Dogs. At least the bear was well fed with corn dogs before it was relocated.
posted by msjen at 8:24 PM on February 13, 2020 [79 favorites]

A couple of years ago I stayed at a campground in northern California that had impressive heavy-duty steel lockers installed at every campsite with lots of prominent warnings about not leaving food out because of the local bear population (all black bears, no grizzlies). I absolutely respected bears already, but when I caught sight of one locker that had some serious claw marks on it where "just" a black bear had tried to get into it, my deference suddenly deepened even further, to the point where I started pondering how close an unshowered human in a flimsy tent might possibly come to smelling like, say, a succulent pork shoulder; and re-considering my personal potential position in the food chain.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:02 PM on February 13, 2020 [12 favorites]

If bears had thumbs, they'd be driving to Costco for more corn dogs.
posted by pracowity at 5:55 AM on February 14, 2020 [15 favorites]

Alas, the story is behind a paywall for me, so I can't read it, unless anyone has a better link.
posted by sarcasticah at 7:58 AM on February 23, 2020

Try this, sarcasticah.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 4:30 PM on February 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Thank you! That worked, and I am happily reading!
posted by sarcasticah at 4:32 PM on February 24, 2020

Another link to bypass the paywall

posted by Ayn Marx at 3:19 PM on February 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

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