An unexpexted "paws"

Cub's stroll through town ends with ride to rehab
Will Briggs
Saturday, July 2, 2022
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The bear cub, in evident distress, remained in a tall tree in the Watsons’ yard for about an hour and a half after getting separated from its mother. Photo courtesy of Wendy King

Carey Kjersem was home on his lunch break Thursday when he took a look out his window.

“I was about to go back to work and saw two dogs out in the yard, so I asked my wife ‘whose dogs are those?,’” he said. “Then I realized they weren’t dogs!”

Two black bears, a mother and a cub, were moving through their yard along Warr Street in Lewistown Heights, just north of the Truck Bypass. The mother and cub separated while passing through a lot with several vehicles. Last Kjersem saw, the mother continued south toward the Truck Bypass. The cub, on the other hand, went toward his cousins’ house on Bach Street.

“Carey came storming into our house and said there’s a bear in our yard,” said Jade Watson, Carey’s cousin.

“It tried to climb a couple smaller trees about 50 feet from our house,” Laure Watson continued. “It ended up climbing a tall tree about 100 feet away. We were told to put our chickens in the coop because they’d distract the cub.”

“At one point, the cub was about 20 feet away from me,” Jade added. “I called work and said I couldn’t come back because there’s a bear in my yard.”

 Fergus County Sheriff’s personnel and game wardens from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks arrived on the scene to ensure the safety of all involved, including the small group of onlookers who gathered to take pictures and see what was going to happen.

Perched on a sturdy limb about 25 feet off the ground, the cub remained in evident distress, crying constantly for its mother. At one point, the cub attempted to come down from the tree before being scared back up by a game warden in order to buy time to resolve the situation without it running further into town. Following extensive consultation, the game wardens tranquilized the cub using a dart after it had spent about an hour and a half in the tree.

“It wasn’t a clean shot because the foliage was pretty thick,” said Sergeant Kyle Andersen with FWP. “It got some bone, so it took some time to go down.”

After it was struck, the cub scrambled down the tree and ran through tall grass into a neighboring yard, scaring several deer nearby. Andersen and game warden Joe Horrocks captured the cub several minutes later and carried the unconscious young of the year to a trap for transport. 

“It’s out like a light,” Andersen said. “It doesn’t take much to tranquilize a bear that small and the nice thing about the drug we used is that you can’t use too much of it. There’s no harm to the animal.”

While tranquilized, FWP tagged the bear’s ear for future monitoring. Andersen said FWP will either take the cub to a rehabilitation facility or release it back into the wild.

“Rehab is the first option,” he said. “If we can get it in, we’ll raise it and re-release it later. Sometimes, unfortunately, there are limited spots in rehab, in which case we’d release it into the mountains.”

While not as rare a sight as the wolverine that passed through Lewistown earlier this year, this is only the third call for a bear in Lewistown in the past ten years, as far as Andersen can remember. He suspects the mother-cub duo was passing through the area.

“They were just traveling through and got hung up,” he said. “We haven’t had any reports of trash cans being disturbed, so it’s likely they were just passing through.”

The mother was last seen at Lane and Joyland Road after she was separated from her cub. Sheriff’s deputies made patrols around the area, but the mother never returned to the Watsons’ yard. Andersen encouraged anyone who spots the bear to report it to FWP or the Sheriff’s office.