Captured bear wins reprieve

TAHOE CITY - A rogue bear that had been breaking into Alpine Meadows homes won a reprieve and will be sent to a Colorado wildlife sanctuary instead of being killed.

California Department of Fish and Game officials agreed to arrange for the bear's transfer after it was captured Friday afternoon.

After two weeks of at times bitter argument about what should be done with the bear, both sides are content with the end result. The problem bear, which had been breaking into a home a day has been removed from the community, but will not be euthanized.

"I am thrilled this bear is not being killed," resident and BEAR League member Kate Ulberg said. "I had complete faith that the public outcry would save this bear.

Elvira Nishkian who had her house broken into by the problem bear and requested the second of two depredation permits issued, said she is simply glad to see the bear removed.

"Get it off anywhere, I don't care where," she said. "As long as it's gone."

Even John Nicholas, the trapper responsible for catching and euthanizing problem bears in the basin seemed pleased with the resolution.

"If somebody pays to transfer the bear elsewhere it doesn't matter to me," Nicholas said. "One less bear I have to kill I guess."

Alpine Meadows resident Jim Kenney set in motion the chain of events that led to the bear's capture. Friday morning, after the bear broke into his home for the third time in as many days, Kenney chased the bear out of his house and into a nearby tree. Once in the tree, the BEAR League responded and worked to keep the bear in the tree until Fish and Game officials could arrive.

BEAR League director Ann Bryant had worked out an agreement the previous day that would allow the bear to be transported to the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center in Keenesburg, Colo.

From about 10:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. the BEAR League, the Placer County Sheriffs Office, and the Alpine Meadows Fire Department worked to keep the bear in the tree by banging objects together, flailing arms, yelling and at times turning a fire hose on the bewildered bear.

Fish and Game biologist Pat Foy, veterinarian Ben Gonzales and trapper John Nicholas arrived with tranquilizer darts around 2 p.m. With the bear over 100 feet up in the tree the waiting game began. Fish and Game could not dart the bear at that height because the bear would fall, likely to its death.

For two hours Foy and Gonzales crouched at the base of the tree awaiting the bear's descent while anxious spectators watched from a distance.

"We won't shoot him until he's 10 to 12 feet off the ground," Gonzales said at the time. "It could be hours, but we have the best plan right now and we're willing to wait a long time. We don't want the bear to get hurt."

Though willing to wait, they clearly preferred not to. Foy shot the bear twice with a "soft dart" meant simply to sting the bear and to coax him out of the tree. The technique was effective and the bear slowly began his descent. As the bear approached the ground Foy darted the bear again, this time with 500 mg of a tranquilizer called Telazol. The bear hit the ground and took off running.

Foy, Gonzales, Nicholas and a member of the sheriffs department armed with a shotgun, found the still conscious bear over a half mile away on the other side of Alpine Meadows Road. They shot it with another 500 mg of Telazol and dragged the bear back to the road. Spectators and children crowded around the sleeping bear as it was put into the trap. Fish and Game received cheers from the crowd of onlookers.

"They've never done anything like this before," Bryant said. "And to cooperate to this magnitude. This is a great step forward. I'm just really impressed with them right now."

The Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center where the bear will live out the rest of its years has been in operation for 21 years. The non-profit organization is an accredited wildlife sanctuary and is currently home to five bears, and a number of wild cats.

This will be the second Alpine Meadows bear to call the refuge home. A bear found on the side of the road by River Ranch last winter lives there and is doing quite well, according to executive director Pat Craig. The sanctuary has a 9-acre enclosed area, replete with ponds and underground dens for the bears.


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