“Karen, you’re Fish and Wildlife, you need to come out here!”
I was working as a public information officer at the North Fork Fire Department in eastern Idaho. My assignment, as part of an interagency team, was to provide news about the nearby Mustang Fire, burning in the Salmon National Forest. Lightning started the fire July 30. It was now August 26; homes were evacuated and more than 130,000 acres were black.
Outside, in the fire station parking lot, I saw an Idaho Fish and Game truck. In the back was a small black bear. Conservation officer Justin Williams told me that firefighters had spotted the bear, which he estimated to be 4 months old, clinging to a tree. After failing to locate its mother, they had called for the cub’s rescue.
This sounded like the Smokey Bear story. Someone who helped capture the Ursus americanusnamed it “Boo Boo.”
The state veterinarian checked over the patient. The prognosis: second degree burns on all four paws. With a high risk of infection, this cub didn’t qualify for the state’s standard wildlife rehabilitation plan. It would need dedicated medical care for 4-6 weeks.
By that time, even if the bear survived, it would likely become habituated to its human caretakers and wouldn’t be able to live in the wild. Would Boo Boo become a zoo bear?
For two weeks, volunteer veterinarians worked purposefully to provide treatment. They didn’t get friendly with their charge. They didn’t talk to it or call it “Boo Boo.” It began eating, quickly doubling its weight. Its paws healed weeks earlier than predicted.
Just 19 days after being taken into custody, the wild bear was transferred to the Snowden Wildlife Center, a kind of half-way house in the forest. The first thing it did was climb a tree.
Looks like this bear will be headed back to the woods.
Karen Miranda Gleason is a Public Affairs Specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Boise, Idaho