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ON THE SCENE: Corralling bear cubs in Keene Valley

November 25, 2016
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

Puppies, kittens, calves, fawns, chicks and bear cubs are all cute, but cubs can be a tad more destructive, particularly if they are hungry, have no mom to feed them and discover garbage neatly packaged for them on a back porch.

About two weeks ago, two black bear cubs were rattling around Keene Valley seeking food and shelter. A female bear had been killed by a car or a truck in Keene, some 5 miles away. As to whether the two cubs had been hers, no one knows, but shortly thereafter they arrived in Keene hungry and clearly without a mama bear to care for them.

Bears, coyotes and other critters had been more present in the hamlets this year; the modest amounts of rain resulted in a poor berry crop and similar shortages driving them to seek alternate sources of nourishment. As a result, bird feeders, pets, people's gardens, garbage on porches and other delicacies have been hit hard. Thus, it's not surprising that the two cubs attached themselves to Keene Valley rather than hanging out on some hillside.

Article Photos

Black bear cub in a crabapple tree in Keene Valley
(Provided photo — Larry Master)

The cubs were somewhere around 30 pounds for the smaller to 40 to 45 for the larger. According to Larry Master, former chief zoologist for the Nature Conservancy, the smaller bear first showed up rummaging through a homeowner's garbage.

"When I got there, it had climbed a tree and was about 25 feet up," said Master. "I photographed it. Later in the evening, it ambled over to the Rivermede Farm store in search of food. A few days later, I got a call from John Hudson, who said he was watching a bear cub and would continue to do so until someone came."

"My neighbor Jane Martin and I went for a walk towards the airport, and we saw a FedEx truck parked the wrong way on the side of the road," said Hudson. "We wondered why. The driver told us there was a baby bear and she didn't know where the mother was. I knew from Nextdoor Keene that a female bear had been killed in Keene. The cub was feeding on a deer carcass and some garbage. As I didn't know the Wildlife Refuge's number, I posted the information on Facebook."

When Larry Master arrived, a large crowd had gathered, and a state Department of Environmental Conservation representative and the police were trying to disperse the onlookers. Master took photographs, and when home compared these images with the ones he took a few days earlier and realized by the facial markings and size there were two cubs, one slightly larger than the other. Soon Nextdoor Keene, the community online bulletin board, was abuzz with sightings and expressions of concern.

The bear cubs were not hanging out together but wandering about the same end of the hamlet. Calls went out to Wendy Hall of the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehab Center in Wilmington. She urged people to call the DEC and came down to check out the situation. The DEC's basic mantra is let nature take its course. As it was not nature that killed the female bear in Keene, but some vehicle, the local consensus was to capture the bears and provide them refuge until spring. Wendy Hall felt that the smaller bear's health was at risk, meeting the guidelines for capture, and thus attempted to do so. The DEC disagreed, stopping the initial effort.

Calls for help went to Sen. Betty Little and Assemblyman Dan Stec. In consultation with Larry Master, they agreed that the smaller cub met the criteria as endangered, while the larger, seemed in far better shape, especially after feeding on the deer carcass. It was likely to find a place to hibernate and thus survive the winter. The DEC was urged to revisit the situation. Meanwhile, a week had gone by, and the bears had disappeared, though not entirely.

Initially, the larger cub slept in a tree near the deer carcass but had since wandered off not to be seen again. The smaller cub never left the neighborhood, an area bracketed by the Rivermede Farm store on the south and John Hudson's frame shop a few houses to the north. Hudson discovered the cub up in a crabapple tree in his neighbor's lawn.

"The little cub never went away," said Hudson. "He was into everyone's garbage knocking over their trash barrels. When I saw him in the tree, I called the DEC. They came right over. This time they agreed that the small bear was not in good shape and successfully captured the cub."

"Our policy is what's the best thing for the bear is to encourage it to go back into the wild and not become accustomed to being in a community like Keene," said Bob Stegeman, director of DEC's Region 5, based in Ray Brook. "That happened with the larger of the two cubs, and we think it's probably going to be just fine. Our wildlife experts believe it's large enough to survive on its own.

"Sometimes that doesn't happen, such as when they are injured or impaired. In the second situation, we had a bear that is smaller, somewhere under 30 pounds. We feel that it was impaired as it seemed to have low energy. After several attempts, we realized it was not going to go off in the woods by itself, and decided the best thing to do was to locate this bear to a rehab so it could regain some strength, and that's what we did. Come spring, it will be released back into the wild."

"It was quite a capture. First, they started beating on the tree with a stick," said Hudson. "Sometimes that makes them come down, but not this one. So they drove down the road a bit, and I watched from my frame shop. As soon as they left, the cub climbed down. I called them, and they came back capturing him with a loon net. He put up a wicked fight, but they got a loop around his neck and put him in a cage. He immediately calmed down."

The DEC transported the bear to a rehab facility near Oswego that is set up for reintegrating bears into the wild.

"I thought that the one cub that was considerably smaller would have a hard time surviving the winter without its mother," said Hall. "The DEC agreed that if he started raiding garbage cans, then he should be captured and overwintered. The rehab center, where they took the cub, is the perfect place. I am very pleased that the bear is in care. You have to approach it one bear at a time as a general rule doesn't always fit a particular circumstance. I am glad in this case everyone came to the same conclusion, and now the bear cub is in a safe place. It shows that when you get all the right people together, we can make good decisions. We may not satisfy everyone, but if the other cub turns up and it's in bad shape, we'll know what to do. Hopefully, it will be fine."



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