Furor fueled, Schlafmann rebuffs misinformation
Blondie, a local bear who’s broken into many local residences over the past two years, may have seen her depredation permit expire last week, but a few other local bears were not so lucky.
Late last week it was learned another hit was recently placed on a mama bear and her cubs living in the Lakes Basin. This hit has been carried out.
On Friday, Sept. 4, Town Manager Rob Clark notified Mammoth Lakes Town Council members, Town Staff and Wildlife Specialist Steve Searles of the apparent shooting of a mother bear and her cubs in the Lakes Basin by U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services operatives earlier in the week.
Neither the Town Council, the Wildlife Sub-Committee, Town Wildlife Specialist Steve Searles nor Police Chief Randy Schienle were given a head’s up about the planned operation. Town Risk Manager Michael Grossblatt said Staff only found out about the action late Thursday after being briefed by U.S. Forest Service Mammoth/Mono Lake Deputy District Ranger Mike Schlafmann. Grossblatt said that the Forest Service has jurisdiction over the Lakes Basin, where the depredation took place.
Schlafmann said he thought a sudden surge in local furor was largely attributable to what he deemed “misinformation” following initial reports of the story. As he related it, the chain of events basically goes like this: first, a depredation permit was requested by a National Forest permit-holder for “extensive damages” to his/her property, said to be in the thousands of dollars. That’s one reason to issue a permit; the other involves imminent danger of physical harm, which wasn’t the case here. Schlafmann said the State Dept. of Fish and Game (DFG) then issued the permit. The grounds for the permit were lawful.
He also confirmed early reports that the permit-holder taking out the depredation order had independently contracted with USDA Central District Wildlife Services Supervisor Steven “Wade” Carlson to carry out the order. Carlson had been working in the area previously to track down Blondie. The USFS and DFG were both notified of the contractor, a requirement since there would likely be firearms used.
Schlafmann said that the Lakes Basin does fall within the town limits, though it is outside the Urban Growth Boundary. And, while he’s not legally required to notify Town staff or Town Council, the one oversight he regrets in the whole matter was not properly notifying MLPD Chief Schienle on a law enforcement-to-law enforcement level. “I spoke with [Chief Schienle] and explained everything to him,” Schlafmann added. “He understood and said he was fine about it. I intend to fix that process going forward.”
The Forest Service and DFG had previously discussed taking out bears who may have been a problem in a campground, but what seems to bother Mammoth Lakes Town Councilman Skip Harvey the most about the whole event is the lack of communication from both agencies. “I thought we we’re supposed to be working together on this kind of thing.”
He also wants to know whether or not DFG officials, present at Wednesday’s Wildlife Subcommittee meeting, knew about the killing the three bears and whether they still chose to say nothing. Harvey thought this additionally strange considering the current climate over handling of bear issues in Mammoth. In his earlier statement, Harvey went on to say, “It appears Fish and Game doesn’t want to work with the Town.” In any event, Harvey stated categorically, “None of us [on Council] had any prior knowledge this was happening.”
Schlafmann said he couldn’t speak to any DFG or Wildlife Subcommittee issues, since the Forest Service isn’t part of the Subcommittee, but said he did take Harvey’s point in that he’s hoping to improve communications between the Forest Service and the community. “I’m planning on organizing an open forum so that we can air out some of the issues and address misconceptions outside of a dais-podium fomat.”
DFG Regional Manager Bruce Kinney had previously told Town-Council Liaison members that use of the group of Modesto-based USDA Wildlife Services trappers is common particularly in heavy bear population centers. “They’re used frequently in Tahoe,” Grossblatt said. Schlafmann agreed, adding that as he understands it, Tahoe has had to resort to trapper activity nearly every week of the summer so far.
And a wild flurry of phone calls and e-mails on the heels of the breaking story fueled even more speculation that perhaps the reason there have been no confirmed Blondie sightings in recent weeks is that she may have already been killed. Schlafmann said, however, that as far as he knows, the Forest Service has heard no reports or seen anything to indicate that Blondie’s been put down.
By mid-afternoon Friday, comments from several key officials were hard to come by. Kinney and the staff of the DFG’s Bishop office were off due to a state-mandated Friday furlough day.
Unconfirmed and second-hand “accounts,” which have circulated throughout town this week had the bear and cubs getting shot while the cubs were feeding. Searles dismissed these accounts as erroneous.
This story is an amendment of an earlier version originally posted online Friday, Sept. 4, at mammothsheet.blogspot.com.