A Ketchikan man on Sunday rescued a small black bear cub, whose head was stuck in a plastic jar. After multiple attempts, Michael Schuler was able to release the bear cub.
Schuler had just wrapped up avalanche tests on Ketchikan’s Deer Mountain when he decided to climb up to the summit. Hiking with his friend’s dog Josie, Schuler stumbled across the black bear cub.
“What my brain saw was a water bottle with a head of hair like leaning on it. So I totally just stopped and had to take a look,” he said. And couldn’t quite place (what it was), because it was so snow covered. It was moving, kind of lolling around.”
He says the dog started to growl as they walked around the animal trying to figure out what it was they were looking at.
“It was so snow-covered and … at first it didn’t occur to me that it would be a cub especially up on the summit,” Shuler said. “I’ve been up a lot on Deer Mountain a lot this winter doing snow pack study stuff. I’ve only seen a couple of marten tracks up that high… so it was really kind of a shock.”
Schuler says he racked his brain and the only other animal that could be that size would be a wolverine.
“I was like we don’t have wolverines here, but I was still running through my head. I thought if it’s a bear cub I can handle that. But if it’s a wolverine, as soon as it’s out it’s gonna tear me apart,” he said.
Schuler says he poked the animal with a hiking and got the animal to roll over. Ultimately, he determined it was a bear.
Before trying to free the animal, Schuler said he attempted to get in touch with a wildlife biologist to see if there were protocols for dealing with a trapped bear.
After a phone call with a trooper, Schuler said he tied the dog up and went to work trying to free the bear.
“I reached down and I grabbed the jar. I just thought as soon as I had the jar in my hands, he’d just pull his head out, back away and that would be it. He tugged back and nothing happened,” Schuler said. “I kind of thought for a second and thought well I’ll just pick him up … pick him up and shake him out. So I picked the cub up completely off the ground and did a kind of little drop shake. That still didn’t do anything.”
By that time, Schuler says the cub was becoming agitated, making noise and trying to get away.
“So I couldn’t let go of the jar at this point. I had my ice axe and I was able to stick the point of my ice axe through the plastic at the very bottom (of the jar) and stand on my ice axe for a minute while I sorted out what I was going to do next,” he said.
He says he used the ice axe to anchor the jar into the snow. He then sat on the bear and cut the jar open with a work knife.
By the time the bear was released, Schuler said Josie the dog had chewed through her lead and was running around, barking.
“She didn’t chase the bear or anything. She was just kind of saying ‘let’s go,’” Schuler said. “It spun around and I think as soon as … it spun around away from me it just took off down the hill.”
Schuler says he didn’t see the bear cub again after that. However, as he was hiking down the mountain — just after the second outlook – he saw fresh bear cub tracks crossing the trail, headed into the trees downhill.
Schuler says the bear was quite small – around seven or eight pounds. He says it is unlikely the bear would have survived much longer without help.
“He was really tucked up, he was quite cold – totally snow covered. He was moving his head around just a little bit,” he said.
Schuler says he is frustrated that someone left trash on the mountain that could very well have killed the bear cub.
“Carry out what you carry in. Sometimes the most innocuous thing can really turn dangerous,” Schuler said. “It’s our own community mountain up there and we should all take care to keep it clean.”