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Bears off Hydro's bucket list now

Lester Beach family taken from trees

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A mother bear and one of her cubs take  refuge up a tree to evade a wildlife officer.

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A mother bear and one of her cubs take refuge up a tree to evade a wildlife officer.

A mother bear and her three small cubs were safely rounded up and released back into the wild at Lester Beach Wednesday in a day of high drama that could have gone horribly wrong.

The bear capture and release took most of the day and followed a similar incident Sunday where the same wildlife officers safely relocated another mother bear and her two cubs they caught near Jackfish Lake west of Lake Manitoba.

"There's no shortage of bears in Manitoba," wildlife officer Sheldon Orvis said Thursday.

Orvis said unlike the Jackfish Lake incident, what happened Wednesday in Lake Winnipeg cottage country was a recipe for everything that could have gone wrong, but didn't.

The bear family was spotted about 10 a.m. near Pioneer Avenue in Lester Beach, which is just north of Grand Beach. There had been several sightings of the bear family in the area for about a week.

Orvis said officers responded quickly to keep the bears from getting too close to cottages and the beach area, and to nip any chance the young bears got a taste of human food by rifling through garbage. There was also a fear the sow might become aggressive if separated from her cubs.

Orvis said the plan was simple: Tranquillize the mama bear and capture her three small cubs, weighing about 10 pounds each, using a dog-catcher's snare.

However, when the roughly 180-pound female bear was hit in her rump by a tranquillizer dart, she suddenly ran up the nearest Jack pine tree. It also happened to be one of the tallest trees. Her male cub skedaddled up the tree with her and the two female cubs bolted up separate trees.

Orvis said the tree branches that cradled the sow and her cub were at least 18 metres high, and the fear was that when the sow fell asleep, she'd fall to her death and orphan her cubs.

So they called Manitoba Hydro.

A nearby Hydro crew and their bucket truck arrived shortly, and Orvis and a Hydro worker went up to check on the bear and her cub.

Orvis saw the sow was coming out of her sleep, so he gave her another tranquillizer injection to keep her docile. Her cub was sitting on top of her, and Orvis quickly used the dog snare to pull him from the tree into the bucket. The bucket was lowered to the ground, where the cub was put into a bear trap, a culvert-like cage on wheels.

By that time, Orvis said he'd had enough.

"I'm afraid of heights, and I'm not going to ask an officer to do something I wouldn't do, but it was someone else's turn to go up," he said.

A second officer went up in the bucket and was able to put a harness around the dozing mother bear, plus add a safety harness just in case.

The bear was lowered to the ground and caged. The two female cubs were rounded up and put in the cage with their brother.

With the aid of the Hydro crew, it took about 15 minutes to catch the bears.

"They went out of their way to help us," Orvis said. "It could have turned out a lot differently. Without their help, this might not have been possible."

When it looked like the bears were all in good health and drinking water, they were driven north of Pine Falls and released.

Orvis said the bear capture comes as sows and their cubs are establishing their feeding areas around the province. In the case of the Lester Beach sow, it appears she's a young mother no more than about five years old and was pushed out of a feeding area by an older female sow and her cubs.

It also comes at a time when wildlife and Conservation officers could use a little good publicity.

Earlier this year, Conservation officers shot and killed a young deer called Bambi on the Windy Bay Colony as the deer's Hutterite foster families watched in horror. Colony members had hoped the officers would take the deer to a sanctuary or release it in the wild.

Last summer, Manitoba Conservation was criticized when black-bear cub Makoon was seized from a St. Malo home and released into the wild when its chances for survival were poor because of its young age.

The province's policy is to euthanize wild animals captured and tamed as pets if there is no refuge or sanctuary that will take them. It's illegal in Manitoba to take in a wild animal.

Tell us about your encounters with wildlife. Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 5, 2013 A4


Updated on Friday, July 5, 2013 at 6:43 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds photo, adds topic for discussion

7:59 AM: Replaces photo, adds new photo

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