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Bear issue gets personal

Amanda Fehd
Provided to the Tahoe Daily Tribune / A bear approaches the front door of the Mosbacher home.
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Mary Lou Mosbacher awoke Tuesday morning to threats to her and her property.

And while she has serious bear problems, the threats on Tuesday weren’t from an animal. They came from a human, over the telephone at her home.

Mosbacher, a 42-year resident and great-grandmother who declined to give her age, has a bear trap in her driveway. The reason: Increasingly brazen bears have broken into her home and have destroyed her property. She fears their aggressive behavior may escalate, putting herself and family members in harms way.

Livestock in jeopardy

She started having trouble last summer when she says a bear moved into her back yard, in a stretch of willows that backs the Upper Truckee River.

Last year a bear broke through two doors to her house, where she now lives alone. This year, another bear tore through a door to her basement where she raises chicks. The bear damaged some wires and created a fire hazard.

Mosbacher also keeps ducks, chickens, miniature goats and a mini horse in a small barn in her backyard. She says she has grandfathered rights to raise livestock. Raising livestock in the Lake Tahoe Basin is now prohibited.

Her husband Barney died two years ago of Alzheimer’s. When he was alive and there was more activity at the house, she said they were never bothered by bears.

Now she is terrified.

Four large green bear-proof containers hold all the feed, another sits out on her stoop for garbage. A large motion sensing light sits at the top of her stairway to the house. She’s looking into getting European bear-hunting dogs, a robotic barking dog, and a surveillance camera.

She says she doesn’t know how to use a gun, but whenever she walks her property, she carries a large canister of bear spray in a holster on her hip.

More than a dozen calls to the Tahoe Daily Tribune accused Mosbacher of serious crimes like killing bears without permits, or getting a trap without legitimate property damage. None of those charges could be substantiated.

Mosbacher said she has received two depredation permits from the California Department of Fish and Game, one this spring and one last summer.

Property vandalized

Many people have called the Tribune to express outrage about the bear trap. Once a bear is caught, it is killed. Trespassers have vandalized it and poured ammonia all over it, Mosbacher contends.

The trap sits below the window of Mosbacher’s garage apartment, where renter Darlene Graves is recovering from sinus surgery. She became sick from the fumes of the ammonia.

Several messages left with the Tribune attacked Mosbacher’s character. Some claimed Mosbacher wants all the bears in the Sierra killed. Some calls alleged she has killed seven bears herself. The callers provided no proof of these allegations and Mosbacher denied them.

Fish and Game wildlife biologist Jason Holly said in the past two years, he has issued six depredation permits to residents on Mosbacher’s street resulting in three bears being euthanized. He would not disclose who the agency gave the permits to.

Donna Carmony, who lives directly across from Mosbacher, called the trap “random and gratuitous killing.” She said Mosbacher is a woman of integrity, but requesting the trap is disturbing.

“As a person living in close proximity, I know that she definitely has an agenda to remove them as if they were mice,” Carmony said. She said she would never join the BEAR League because she’s not an activist, but she sympathizes with their position. The League provides education on non-lethal ways to handle bear problems.

Several neighbors on Mosbacher’s street, who declined to give their names because they did not want to become part of the controversy, said a couple of bears have been shot in the neighborhood, but not by Mosbacher or her family.

“I love animals. I don’t want to kill the bears,” Mosbacher said. “I used to love watching them, but I cannot allow these bears to harm my animals, me or my great-grandchildren.”

Her grown grandson and two grandchildren, 2 and 4 years old, are moving into the house this summer.

Neighbor Doug Teakell defended Mosbacher’s character.

“She’s a good soul,” he said. “She’s been through a lot in the past couple of years.” When asked about the allegations that she’s on a mission to eliminate all bears, he said, “She would never do that. She’s not that kind of person.”

Bears common in neighborhood

He said every house on this street in Christmas Valley has been damaged by bear intrusions.

“The consensus on the street is that we all enjoy living in the woods, and we all enjoy and respect the wildlife, but when there is a problem bear, it needs to be taken care of,” Teakell said.

Cheryl Millham agreed, but said the trap may not catch the problem bear. Millham is director of Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, which takes in injured wildlife.

“If there’s a bear going into her house, she has every right to have that bear killed,” Millham said. “You don’t know if she’s getting the wrong bears or the right bears. Killing bears until she’s satisfied is wrong.”

Long-time friend Barbara Gerland also threw her support behind Mosbacher.

“I know she wouldn’t do this if she didn’t have to,” Gerland said. “Mary Lou loves animals.”

Mosbacher has been a visible member of the community for decades. Although elderly, she is tough and very lively.

Mosbacher has served on several community boards of mental health and drug abuse. Several decades ago, she helped start the organization that has morphed into Tahoe Youth and Family Services. She has been elected to the board of South Tahoe Utility District for 15 years.

Patrick Foy, spokesman for the Department of Fish and Game, said black bear densities are higher in the Lake Tahoe Basin, Mammoth Lakes and Monrovia because of human sources of food.

Mosbacher blamed tourists who feed bears, while Millham blamed those who leave their trash out so bears can get it.

Carmony blamed Fish and Game.

“Fish and Game is really to be held responsible for not taking a different approach to handling the bear population in California,” she said.

Holly said bear awareness is the responsibility of all residents and visitors to the Basin. The department receives thousands of calls from Tahoe residents, he said in an e-mail.

There have been 12 bear attacks in California since 1980, according to the Fish and Game Web site. None of them were fatal.

The BEAR League’s Executive Director Ann Bryant is also outraged about the trap. By Thursday, Mosbacher and Bryant had spoken on the phone. It was a pleasant conversation, according to Bryant, but Mosbacher is still determined to “kill as many bears as she can.”

Mosbacher said she’s willing to have the League visit the property and try anything, but so far no one has convinced her to remove the trap.


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