Local defends right to protect property against bear.
Jenny Smith routinely encounters bears around her house on Joaquin Street. “I have two bears that frequent my house every night. The big bear that lives in the culvert at the golf course and this little one,” Smith said in an interview with the Sheet.
On Friday June 28 around 7 p.m. the small bear was in her yard before climbing into a neighbor’s tree. “I had my niece on a video call trying to show her the bear,” Smith said. “But then I felt like it was time to get it out of the tree because it doesn’t belong here.”
Smith grabbed her roommate’s Red Rider BB Gun off the porch and began shooting the branches of the tree.
“I grabbed his toy off the porch and whoever called it in thought it was a real shotgun,” Smith said. “I probably shot the tree three times [and then Town Wildlife Specialist Steve] Searles came ripping into my driveway saying ‘put the weapon down, and put the safety on.’ There isn’t a safety. It’s a toy.”
Steve Searles said he was alerted to Smith using a gun via text messages by a neighbor watching out of their window. “The texts coming in referred to a pump gun,” he said. “I saw her shouldering a rifle as I drove up. I couldn’t tell what kind of gun it was.”
Searles called Mono County dispatch and Officers Reynolds and Ramos, as well as, Fish and Game Warden Estrada, responded to the call. Searles wrote Smith up for unlawfully discharging a firearm within town limits. Searles’s report, along with the ticket for an infraction, has been sent to the District Attorney’s office for review. There could be an additional charge of a misdemeanor for harassment of wildlife, MLPD said.
“I believe this situation was blown out of proportion,” Smith said. She had just gotten off work at Mammoth Rock and Dirt, where she works full time construction. She also bartends at the Clocktower Cellar and is on a leave of absence from the Mammoth Lakes Fire Department, where she worked for five years.
“I’ve shot a gun at a shooting range,” Smith said. “But the fact that [a BB gun] is considered a firearm blows my mind.”
According to the Town’s municipal code, BB guns, pistols, revolvers, shotguns, rifles, crossbows, compressed air guns and pellet guns are all considered firearms. “It could be a Nerf gun. That uses compressed air. Where is the line drawn?” asked Smith.
Smith said she was a vegan for eight years until just recently and won’t even kill a spider in the house. “I wasn’t shooting any bears, I was shooting the tree that the bear is in,” she said. “Just trying to rustle him, wake him up and get him out.”
“Going up into a tree is a sign of submissiveness,” Searles said. “He was doing what he naturally does.” There was a social media contest recently to name the bear cub, whose name is now Scout. He is one of two boy cubs in town that are 16 months old. “He was weaned four weeks ago,” Searles said. “He’s blond, over blond. He’s 70 pounds and has big brown eyes. Most people have seen at least one of them.”
Smith, who homebrews beer on her front porch, said she regularly has bear prints on her car in the morning and she recently saw a bear dragging her grill off her porch “I have bear lure every night. The beer boils over and it dries on the outside,” she said. “They grab your stuff and walk away with it. They are relentless and they are fearless.”
Smith had the Harassment of Wildlife penal code with her when she talked to the Sheet. Harassment is defined as “an intentional act, which disrupts an animal’s normal behavior.” It goes on to say that it “does not apply to a landowner or tenant who drives or herds birds or mammals for the purposes of preventing damage to private or public property.”
“I’m from upstate New York, where you protect your property. This bear is not welcome on my property. As far as I knew, I’m allowed to protect my property and my belongings,” Smith said. “That bear is just waiting for me to walk in my house so it can come down and just ravage all of our belongings again. And I don’t want it to feel like it’s okay for it to be on my property.”
“What qualifications does Searles have? He gets to pick and choose what he gets to shoot?” she asked.
“There’s a TV show out where Searles shoots bears on every show.”
Searles acknowledged that he does shoot bears with beanbags or if they are injured and need to be put down. “But I’ve never lethally shot a bear because of public safety or damage to property,” Searles defended. “I do use non-lethal means, but I’ve never in my entire career shot a bear in a tree. And we don’t use non-lethal force on cubs until they reach a certain size.”
Smith said she was unaware that shooting a BB gun within town limits was illegal. After the incident on Friday, she went online and couldn’t find anything on Visit Mammoth, the Town website, or MLPD website that discusses the use of firearms in the Town. “I’ve never had one violation, not one incident in this town. I asked for a warning because this is ridiculous,” Smith said. She also said she apologized directly to everyone on Friday night: “I told them, ‘I’m really sorry guys that you all have to be here.’ If I had known it was illegal I wouldn’t have done it.”
Smith said that no one asked her for a statement at the scene and was angry she wasn’t allowed to see Searles’s report. She also doesn’t know how much the fines will be and is waiting to receive notice in the mail from the District Attorney. “I think I should have a right to see the report that was written about me. And make my own statement,” Smith said.
Smith’s neighbor, Ryan Eggleson, was also watching the bear and taking pictures. “We were stoked on seeing him. We were pumped on the nature aspect of it,” he said. “I leave for ten minutes and the freaking Calvary showed up.” Eggleson was not present when Smith was using the gun, but tried to talk to MLPD and Searles on the scene. “They didn’t want any part of my story,” Eggleson said.
“Legally sure. There was a BB gun involved. But if you didn’t know that about town it was a bit of an over-reaction,” he said. “As far as actually doing something wrong? Heck no. She wasn’t doing anything wrong. As far as disturbing the wildlife? Are you kidding me?”
“Seeing a bear pass through your property in Mammoth Lakes is a very common thing, and something that most of us enjoy,” Searles said. He advised people: “Please don’t take matters into your own hands. If a bear is causing any trouble call, call me. Don’t shoot the bear.”
After writing Smith the ticket, Searles left Scout in the tree. “Bears spend over half of their time in a tree,” he said. “That’s where bears sleep to stay safe.
“As soon as the sun went down, the bear came right down,” Smith said. “He was hanging from the tree trying to decide if he should come down and then he just scurried away.”
Smith doesn’t want to make any local agencies look bad and wants people in Town to know what happened. “I want to be more of an informant. This is what happened to me. It may be ridiculous. Or not. You make your opinion. [But] if you didn’t know that kids toys are considered guns too, now you do.”