Sunday, September 09, 2007

Bears in Trees

During August, I saw small black bears in trees in two different states--Alaska and Colorado. (Ho-hum, another week, another bear in a tree....) Unlike the grizzly, the black bear--even as an adult--is an adept climber, and runs up trees to get away from a predator or enemy (including humans). Both bears I saw were cubs--the Alaska bear probably a one-year-old, since it was still with its mother; the Colorado bear a two-year-old who was on his own (according to the ranger who was monitoring the situation).

The Alaska bear had apparently climbed into his tree shortly before we arrived at the area, while his mother and siblings continued to forage for salmon. This is a proverbial fish-in-the-barrel opportunity--the bears stand by the stream, up which the salmon are swimming, and grab them out of the water.

They eat the head and guts and throw away THE GOOD PART!! Seems like we're missing a reciprocal exchange agreement here--just think of all the heads and guts that are discarded by humans, and the beautiful salmon steaks discarded by bears.

We were close to the wild in this area--right near Mendenhall Glacier, and most of us were much more interested in photographing the mother and two other cubs, so I didn't even get a picture of this bear in a tree.

I suspect that the bear probably meandered down as soon as the park closed and the small groups of humans left.

The Colorado bear had wandered into downtown Fort Collins--probably in search of food (no handy salmon streams), and climbed a tree when it felt threatened.

The tree in question (or trees, actually, since it came down one and went up another several times) were old, very tall trees on the grounds of a historic house on the corner of Mountain and Meldrum--directly across the street from The Edwards House, the B&B in which I was staying.

In contrast to the Alaska scene, the Fort Collins bear WAY up in the tree attracted huge volumes of townsfolk, as well as the local media.

Since the bear was there for about 30 hours, many people came and went, including a couple of midnight visits from various groups of newly-arrived freshmen from the University of Colorado. (Since I was having breakfast every morning with parents of freshmen, I felt like I got to know this group very well!) Also several Department of Wildlife rangers down from Estes Park were there monitoring the bear full-time, and providing lots of useful information to gawkers like me!

Several attempts were made with fire engine cherrypickers to get close enough to tranquilize and trap the bear. But most of the time he was too high to make this feasible--apparently they only have five minutes after they tranq the bear to get him down; if they don't get him trapped and down before then, he will become immobilized and likely fall out of the tree and be seriously hurt.

At about 3 a.m. on the second night they were finally able to catch it and take it back up into the Rocky Mountains in a waiting cage. (According to the rangers, they planned to entice it with melons and berries--yum! These bears eat well!) The bear was tagged before release--if it wanders into an urban area again it will be euthanized--the Colorado two-strikes law at work.

By the way, Colorado has a black bear population of about 12,000, while Alaska has more than 50,000. (On a personal level this makes sense to me, since I saw four bears in Alaska, and only one in Colorado!)

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