Redding Record Searchlight
Published 9:09 PM EDT Sep 13, 2018
REDDING, Calif. – The young black bear that was burned in a Northern California fire has been returned to the wild.
After six weeks in captivity while recovering from third-degree burns on all four paws, the black bear did not hesitate to return to the woods.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials released her Wednesday on a remote dirt road in Trinity County.
Deana Clifford, a senior wildlife veterinarian for the department, intently watched the bear as she quickly scampered away, crossed a creek and ran up a hill out of sight.
Clifford wanted to make sure the bear moved well so she could take care of herself in the wild.
"That's definitely what I had hoped for," Clifford said.
Clifford was one of 10 people who went along on the trip to return the 1½-year-old animal, who was found by a utility worker near Whiskeytown National Recreation Area.
Her paws were seriously injured, so she was taken to the department's Wildlife Investigations Lab in Rancho Cordova. There she underwent a novel therapy that involved bandaging her feet in tilapia skins rich in collagen.
Six weeks later the young bruin had gained about 25 pounds and was ready to return to the wild. Jeffrey Stoddard, a lands and wildlife program manager for the department, said they were picky about where they returned the bear.
More: Young bear with burned paws rescued from California wildfire
More: Battling wildfires year-round is now the norm. How did we get here?
She needed to be returned to a location with plenty of food and water, which meant taking her to a location outside the Carr Fire burn area. They also wanted to take her to a remote location, away from humans and homes, but still as close as possible to where she was found.
"If she really wanted to get back to her old stomping grounds she could make it. In the meantime, she has plenty of food and water where she is," Stoddard said.
The team that released the bear wasn't sure what she would do when the door to her aluminum holding box was opened. They were hoping she would scurry away, rather than tarry.
During her time in captivity they took great pains to have as little contact with her as possible. That also meant not talking around her, Clifford said.
They didn't want her to get used to be around people – or worse, enjoy being around them.
"We don't want her to become a bear that comes into the community later," Clifford said.
The bear didn't appear to want to stay around humans when she was released Wednesday. She immediately ran away when the door to her crate was opened.
Even before she was released she rustled around inside the box, and stuck her arm outside the box and shoveled dirt inside.
Jamie Peyton, another veterinarian who treated the bear, said the bear's recovery is part of a larger story about the community's recovery from the Carr Fire.
"It's not about one animal. It truly is about a bigger picture," Peyton said. "I think it does bring about hope to a lot of people."