DNR rescues bear stuck in northwest Minnesota ditch
According to Andy Tri, bear project leader for the DNR, the bear had been denned up in a culvert that started to flow during the recent warmup and became stuck when he attempted to seek drier cover.
WANNASKA, Minn. — A bear that became stuck in the deep snow of a ditch southwest of Wannaska in Roseau County was rescued Monday morning and relocated to a new makeshift den at Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area in Marshall County, a bear expert for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said.
According to Andy Tri, bear project leader for the DNR in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, the adult male bear had been denned up in a culvert that started to flow during the recent warmup and became stuck when he attempted to seek drier cover.
“He tried to push himself out and kind of got wedged on some frozen water that had frozen and thawed, frozen and thawed and got stuck in place and tired,” Tri said late Monday morning.
Tri, who as a wildlife research biologist is trained and certified to administer sedatives, drove up early Monday morning from Grand Rapids and drugged the bear. With assistance from DNR conservation officers Ben Huener of Roseau, Minnesota, Coby Fontes of Baudette, Minnesota, and an officer from the Roseau County Sheriff’s Office, they used a rope with “paw cuffs” to extract the bear from the deep snow, Tri said.
It took them about “20 minutes max” to free the bear once it was drugged, he said.
“I got there (Monday) morning, Ben (Huener) was with it just to make sure nothing happened to it. I came in and it was just one of those standard druggings,” Tri said. “He went right down in 10 minutes, and it took about five guys to haul him up and out of the hole once we dug him out. We just had to free his leg out of the hole of the culvert.”
The bear was in good shape and weighed “probably close to 375-400 pounds,” Tri said.
“He’s in the back of a pickup truck now, and we’ll make him a new den,” Tri said Monday morning. “He probably won’t stay, but at least it will give him some protection from the elements after that.”
News of the bear’s predicament created quite a buzz Sunday evening on social media.
Spencer Krohn of Greenbush, Minnesota, was one person who took to social media on Sunday. He said he became aware of the bear on Sunday and after it became evident the bear was stuck, he tried to coordinate a local effort to dig the bear out that evening.
“We were going to go out there and take every precaution necessary, but basically we just wanted to dig it free enough so it could get out,” he said.
He said a local couple had started to dig the bear out before DNR officials arrived on the scene. Then, the DNR blocked off the area.
“So we kind of had to stand around and wait for their decision,” said Krohn.
Tri said he first heard about the situation about 5:30 p.m. Sunday, when he received a call from Kyle Arola, manager of Thief Lake WMA.
“Bears in this part of the world, they pop up in culverts pretty often this time of year when the water starts to run,” Tri said. “It’s not unusual to see one out in February, but usually they’re up and able to move.”
In this case, Tri said, Huener and Arola tried poking the bear with a long stick. Usually, that’s enough to get them moving, but it was clear in this case that the bear was stuck.
There was a lot of misinformation swirling around social media about the encounter Sunday night and the DNR’s response. In reality, Tri said, Arola and Huener were at the site until “way after dark” Sunday night, cordoning off the area and trying to keep things safe.
“All they could do last night was keep him safe and keep folks out of the area to make sure they’re not messing with him or stressing him out by taking pictures and getting too close,” Tri said. “And then, it was textbook after that.”
The bear showed no sign of frostbite or frozen tissue, despite its ordeal, Tri said.
“He clearly smelled like runoff — stinky, stagnant water — but generally speaking, I don’t think he was totally frozen in,” Tri said. “I think he just got caught up in some of that thick ice where he pushed out and just hooked himself goofy. We did a little chipping away out of the culvert and were able to roll him on his back and extract his leg. There was a little bit of blood on the outside of the hole where he had been scraping trying to pull himself up, but (he was) no worse for wear and in real good shape.”
How the DNR responds to reports of wildlife in trouble depends on the situation, Tri said.
“A bear in a culvert in a ditch is not an unknown thing, and coming into the scene, that was my first thought is, ‘All right, we should let things go,’ and if it’s acting normally, by the time Kyle and Ben would give it a poke, it would run off and be fine and then go make another den in a windrow or brush pile — that sort of thing,” Tri said. “The more you see photos of it and learn more, that it’s been there for a couple of days, you can tell something’s wrong.
“That’s why we made the call for me to come in first thing (Monday) morning.”
Tri said some of the locals who saw the bear stuck in snow tried to help it by tossing food such as a sucker fish, lettuce and Pop Tarts, thinking that would help.
“That’s one thing that I love about Greater Minnesota is that everybody’s willing to lend a hand,” Tri said. “Bears aren’t eating this time of year, but their hearts were in the right place.”
Tri fitted the bear with a couple of ear tags to identify it, in the event of any future sightings or encounters. Whether the bear stays in its new "nest," remains to be seen, but the rescue effort had a favorable outcome, Tri said.
“I was worried we’d have a sick bear mortally wounded or gravely injured or something like that,” Tri said. “This is a happy story all the way around.”