Wildlife Committee to tighten educational language
“The bears are doing good,” Searles said at Tuesday’s Wildlife Committee meeting. “The rain has helped loosen the snow and exposed the grass. There is the potential for the bears to have a lot of natural food this summer.”
Which means the potential for the bears to behave themselves, as long as humans don’t interfere too much.
One item that the Committee focused on at its meeting was properly educating the public, which is a key component in keeping dumpsters locked and bears out of homes.
The Committee reviewed the updated Special Event Food Vendor Permit language regarding food storage. Each year hundreds of vendors descend upon Mammoth Lakes for art fairs and music events. Often these vendors come from areas where bears are not a concern and they do not realize they have to do things a bit differently while in Mammoth. Last summer, one unlucky vendor had a surprise encounter with a bear that led to the vendor being bit and the bear being scared out of its mind.
In an effort to remedy the disconnect that vendors have when working in Mammoth, stronger language was added to the permit that each vendor must acquire when setting up a booth during a special permit. The new permit language explains the need to clean up and sanitize food areas every day in order to keep the bears away.
A portion of the language, however, raised red flags for Searles.
“We are telling them [vendors] to clean their booths with bleach and ammonia, but the combination of those two items creates a toxic chemical.” Searles pointed to the increased rate of suicide by household chemicals to demonstrate his concerns.
“You need to be careful what you combine at these vendor’s sites,” he said.
Mayor Skip Harvey agreed and went even further. “We shouldn’t even be telling them what to use,” he said.
The Committee agreed to amend the language to simply tell vendors to “sanitize” or “disinfect” their booths.
Searles and fellow committee member Dan Dawson will also be updating educational documents being distributed around town. Searles thinks several of the documents do not provide accurate information.
Marianne O’Connor of Bear-With-Us, the group that has been distributing the fliers in question, explained that they had pulled the information from Ann Bryant at the Tahoe Bear League in 2008 when Bear-With-Us had first formed.
“The Town had no inventory of public education literature to provide us,” she said.
O’Connor added that the Tahoe Bear League continues to use the same literature, today.
“I do support a review of the literature and modification by Steve Searles on behalf of the Town, if he feels there is more updated information that should be provided to the public,” O’Connor said. “We are pleased he is now in the position to be able to offer his expertise to the Town, because this was not the case in the recent past. However, his presentation yesterday [Tuesday] of his desire to modify the literature was done in such a way as to discredit the current literature and the efforts of Bear-With-Us to provide accurate information to the public. By all accounts, we thought we were providing effective tools to the public.”
Also in the works: an update to the Town Ordinance as it applies to trash management and feeding wildlife.
“After the airing of ‘The Bear Whisperer’ on television, people contacted me asking why the Town doesn’t just fine people for not closing dumpsters,” said Mammoth Police Chief and Committee member Dan Watson. “I assumed the Town had an ordinance in place for this, but when I looked at the dumpster closure ordinance we currently have it’s very vague.”
Watson explained that Public Works Director Ray Jarvis and other Town staff are currently working on new enforcement with more teeth and clearer direction. The Committee planned to direct staff to also include the creation of Wildlife Fund within the Town budget within this ordiance language. Discussion of the new language as well as the potential fund will come back to the committee for review and will then need to go before the Town Council.
The Committee denied a request for funding from the Eastern Sierra Wildlife Education Coalition, a new agency group that has formed in order to bring a consistent educational message to the Eastern Sierra. The Committee realized the importance of a coalition such as ESWEC, but pointed out that not only does the Town already employee Searles, it also has no extra money to give out as it struggles with budget shortfalls and lawsuit settlements.
On the bright side, Caltrans approved encroachment permits for a few wildlife crossing signs on Hwy 203. One of these signs is earmarked to appear near the Welcome Center, but a date has yet to be set on when it will be installed.
Lastly, Watson continues to make it his mission to find a way to allow Searles to use a firearm on U.S. Forest Service land.
“There is no change since the last meeting,” Watson explained. “I am waiting to hear back from the Forest Service.”
The Sheet contacted Jon Regelbrugge, District Ranger for the Mammoth and Mono Lake Ranger Districts, who explained that the process of allowing Searles to use a firearm on Forest Service land is complex.
According to Regelbrugge, it is a federal regulation, not just a Forest Service policy, which says that in addition to Forest Service personnel the only individuals allowed to use firearms on Forest Service land are sworn peace officers.
“Chief Watson made it pretty clear that Steve Searles would never become a sworn officer, so he proposed a set of rules to us that Searles would follow if allowed to use a firearm,” Regelbrugge explained.
The rules would govern the use of firearms for Searles in a similar way that biologists are governed when they carry firearms onto Forest Service lands.
“We are working with our law enforcement and our attorneys to see if this would be admissable, but we haven’t made a determination yet,” Regelbrugge added.
“If there is a legal way to do it, we want to [allow it],” he concluded.