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It's words, not bullets, for the 'bear whisperer' of the Eastern Sierra

Chris Erskine, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

But along the way, he learned something about the bears, and in turn he learned even more about himself.

"Dead bears learn nothing," he said. "If you kill one, another will come in from the mountains to replace it."

An outside-the-box approach, based largely on stern voice commands, would lead to global recognition, an Animal Planet show, scores of fans and, he says, even a few stalkers.

His obsession and his long hours might also have cost him friendships and a long marriage to his wife, Debra, who recently packed up and left.

Yet, Searles is still here, still patrolling the shorelines where the bears tend to congregate, chasing them off the roads where they are in mortal danger, scolding them back into the woods and away from traffic with his trademark "Bad bear! Bad bear!" commands -- along with a few other tools in his kit, such as air horns, fireworks and the occasional pepper ball.

"I'm not really the bear whisperer," he says. "I'm more the bear yeller."


But he's more than that. He's a party on wheels, glib and loaded with rough-edged charisma, mocking his buddies, making fun of himself more than anybody else.

"I'm lazy like Tom Sawyer," he says of getting residents to adopt his methods. "I got everybody to do my work for me."

Admittedly, he's sometimes better with the bears than he is with people.

"Training the bears was easy," Searles says. "Training the people was hard."


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