Last weekend, Dean Rosnau learned first hand that a fed bear is a dead bear. (Photo: Rosnau)
Summer death toll now at three
Dean Rosnau isn’t happy that last weekend he became the poster child for the phrase, “A fed bear is a dead bear.”
“I resent the people who put me in this position,” Rosnau explained.
That position? Being the person to shoot and kill a bear on the June Lake Loop. According to Rosnau, it’s the first animal he’s ever killed, and while he doesn’t feel good about it, he does believe his actions were justified.
“There are three women on the Loop putting food out specifically for bears,” Rosnau said. “They are habituating the bears and training them to think that anywhere there are people, there is food. People shouldn’t think, ‘aww poor bear doesn’t have enough food because it was a late winter.’ There are plenty of natural food sources available. The late winter may have driven them down closer to town, but feeding them is just keeping them here.”
The situation that culminated in last weekend’s incident at Rosnau’s home began about three weeks ago when a group of bears began breaking into a different house in Hideaway Meadows and raiding it for food. The homeowner, a friend and client of Rosnau’s (a contractor and 23-year June Lake local), asked him to check up on the home in his absence.
The bears ended up raiding that place 11 nights in a row, and caused more than $5,000 in damages, according to Rosnau.
“We’d go over and clean things up and board up the broken windows every day, but every night they’d be back,” Rosnau explained. “They didn’t care that people had been in the house.”
Ultimately, the homeowner filed for, and was granted a depredation permit with the Department of Fish and Game, and two bears were shot and killed.
Fast forward to early last Sunday morning. Rosnau was awakened around 12:30 a.m. by a loud bang. To him, it sounded like it had come from the neighbor’s construction dumpster next door.
“I thought, ‘a bear is rooting around in there looking for food,’ even though all it had in it were construction materials,” Rosnau, who has a 60 percent hearing loss, explained.
A few more bangs later, his wife, Leah woke up as well. She disagreed with her husband and claimed the bangs were coming from their kitchen.
“I grabbed my handgun [a .40 caliber Beretta] and extra magazines,” Rosnau explained. “I didn’t know if it was inside the house.”
As Rosnau came downstairs, he saw that a large bear had its head and front legs through the top of a double-hung window and was about to heave the rest of its body through.
“I had a bad line of fire because there is a home directly across the highway from mine,” Rosnau said of his decision not to shoot then. “If I had missed the bullets could have gone in there.”
Instead he yelled, “Get out you sonof abitch!” To which the bear responded by pulling itself back out of the window, getting down on all fours and staring in at Rosnau. By that time, Leah had followed him downstairs and Dean asked her to turn on one set of porch lights on their wrap-around deck while he went to the front door to turn another.
As he walked to the front he heard a loud crash on the deck.
“I thought the bear had broken through the railing and jumped off the deck to run off,” Rosnau explained.
As he stepped out the front door to look around, however, Leah turned on the lights at the other end of the deck.
“Just as I heard her say, ‘he’s not gone,’ the bear came around the corner of the deck,” and man and bear were suddenly face to face. The bear grunted at him, and raised its lips before beginning to deliberately walk in his direction.
“I fired four shots at it,” Rosnau explained. He then took a few steps back to get inside the doorway. The bear walked past him and down the stairs of the deck out into the driveway.
“I realized it was wounded and I didn’t want it wandering around the community that way.” So Rosnau shot twice more into the bear’s legs. It flopped down into the driveway where Rosnau shot several more times to put it down.
He then called the Sheriff’s Department to report what had happened. He was told there was a Sergeant nearby taking a report from someone else who’s home had been broken into by a bear just a little bit earlier. Rosnau asked dispatch to send that Sergeant over, along with the other homeowner. When they arrived, the neighbor positively identified the bear, a large sow, as the one that had been breaking into his home just about 20 minutes before. The Sergeant also identified the bear as one of the “problem” bears on the Loop, and later the DFG officer who came to pick up the bear’s remains, identified it as one on the agency’s list of problem bears.
Rosnau did not have a depredation permit at the time of shooting the bear, but after walking the DFG officer through what had happened, he was issued one after the fact.
Rosnau explained that the incident brought out the same fear and anger that he believed goes through someone’s system when a human being is discovered breaking and entering into one’s home. He feared for his family and was angry at the intrusion.
“If anything comes from this, I want it to be ‘don’t feed the bears,’” Rosnau said. “We need to increase the fines for people caught feeding the bears and we need to enforce those fines. People also have to be educated. June Lake has nothing over here, no signs, no stickers, etc. Mammoth is doing it right with Steve [Searles]. People respond to Steve.”
Steve Searles, Mammoth’s Wildlife Specialist, agreed that Rosnau’s situation was the cause and reaction of feeding the bears.
“Not having a more proactive program put this guy in the position of having to kill the bear, which is sad for everyone,” Searles said. “It’s the same situation as Blondie being fed in Mammoth. Having someone patrolling every day would take away the need for neighbors to have to file a complaint against neighbors for feeding the bears.”
Searles is unable to respond to calls outside of Mammoth because they are not in his designated jurisdiction, which means he faces similar restrictions in areas such as June Lake as he does in the Lakes Basin.
Mono County Sheriff Rick Scholl, explained that while his department does not have a regular patroller for the county, his officers are trained in the same “hazing techniques” that Searles uses in Mammoth. Scholl also explained that in order to issue a citation for feeding the bears, there must be proof. Either an officer has to see it directly, or neighbors have to take photo or video.
“Neighbors don’t usually call,” Scholl said.
He agreed that education and keeping human food away from wildlife were the two keys to avoiding issues such as the one last weekend, but clarified that the county is really there to assist DFG when it comes to wildlife.
“We usually get the first call but then notify DFG right away,” Scholl explained.
DFG, however, is spread so thin these days it can often take hours for them to respond to locations in the approximate 3,300 square miles of Mono County. Rosnau waited 13 hours for a DFG official to arrive to take away the bear’s remains because the officer got caught up in additional bear calls in Walker on his way to June Lake.
This year there have been bear issues reported from Crowley to Walker while Mammoth has been relatively quiet. Scholl, however, believed that Mammoth still has the larger bear problem. County statistics, Scholl said, show 83 wildlife/animal calls reported in the county’s domain from Chalfant to Topaz since May 1.
“MLPD statistics show 164 wildlife/animal calls in the same time period,” Scholl said.
Rosnau, however, saw it a bit differently.
“I’ve been here 23 years and there have only been about four bears killed in June Lake in that entire time until this summer.”