Turns out there may have been more to the bear shooting two weeks ago on Lupin Street than was described by the Mammoth Lakes Police Department press release.
According to the press release, the shooting occurred on Sunday, Nov. 30 near the Sierra Valley sites. The resident who shot the bear claimed the bear had broken into his garage numerous times in the past few weeks, and that it broke in again on Sunday. The resident also claimed that when he attempted to chase the bear away, it bluff charged him before following him to his front door.
The press release then states: “The resident reported being in fear of his life and retrieved a shotgun from inside his residence. The bear charged him again, turned away, and turned towards the resident again and approached. The resident fired one round into the bear’s buttocks.”
When a Mammoth Lakes Police Department officer arrived on the scene, he determined that the bear was seriously injured, and put the bear down with one shot. The resident was subsequently issued a depredation permit after an investigation conducted that same day by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Warden Todd Estrada.
Readers raised an outcry about the event as soon as the MLPD posted the press release to its Facebook site, and Sierra Wave posted the press release to its site. While some commenters commended the resident for protecting himself, others noted that, among other things, a shot in the bear’s hindquarters suggested it was leaving rather than returning to the property.
Still other commenters wondered why the resident was issued no citation for discharging a firearm within town limits, considering the furor raised when Mammoth Lakes resident Jenny Smith used a pellet gun to scare away a bear from her property this summer.
The Sheet reached out to several witnesses, none of whom were interviewed by the MLPD or California Fish and Wildlifeafter the shooting. While one witness told their side of the story, they wished to remain anonymous until the MLPD completed its ongoing investigation of the incident.
The gist of their comments: the event that unfolded on Nov. 30 was different than that described in the press release, something that might have been avoided if this and other witnesses were interviewed at the scene.
Among other things, according to the witness, the bear was not aggressive; it was leaving the yard and was then shot, not the other way around. The witness also said the resident’s garage was not secure at the time of the break-in.
Of those who commented on Facebook and the Sierra Wave site, several also accused Mammoth Wildlife Specialist Steve Searles of putting his stamp of approval on the proceedings, referencing the MLPD press release statement that Searles “confirmed that this resident was dealing with a problem bear.” Others accused Searles’ Bear Management Program of being too lenient, allowing an aggressive bear to remain in the community.
Chief Watson took to the Sierra Wave site on Dec. 2 to voice his support for the Bear Management Program:
“There are many who believe the Town of Mammoth Lakes’ Bear Management Program is a model for managing wildlife,” he wrote. “Others want to see all the bears removed. I believe a measure of success is how many bears are destroyed each year. Whistler has put down 12 bears this year. Lake Tahoe and June Lake have far more problems than we do, and have put down far more bears than Mammoth Lakes. This was the second problem bear destroyed in town in the last 20 years. That doesn’t include injured bears that had to be euthanized. I believe that shows our program is working as intended.
“No doubt the new Police Chief will review the Town’s Bear Management Program and determine whether or not to continue it. My recommendation will be that he does.”
Given the outcry over the shooting, and witnesses subsequently coming forward to contact the Police Department, the MLPD investigation may very well yield different information than that represented in the press release. Chief Watson confirmed that the investigating detective has interviewed several witnesses, although he has not yet interviewed the resident (The Sheet was also unable to contact the resident for comment).
“Like a lot of things, this will be done when it’s done, and we’ll make a decision then.”