Little bear goes to school

TESS FREEMAN/Press A young black bear climbs down from a tree near Woodland Middle School on Wednesday morning. Idaho Fish and Game waited for the bear to climb down before tranquilizing and capturing it to be relocated back into the wild. 

COEUR d’ALENE — Woodland Middle School is the home of the Grizzlies. But black bears are welcome, too.

A young black bear decided to make a large tree on campus its home early Wednesday morning.

Wayne Wakkinen, Idaho Fish and Game regional wildlife manager, said the bear was sighted in the area near the middle school around 6:30 a.m. By the time Wakkinen and two other Fish and Game employees arrived, the bear was close to the top of a large pine tree adjacent to the school’s parking lot.

“I don’t think he’s in any rush to get down,” Wakkinen told The Press Wednesday morning. “My guess is it’s a yearling bear that got booted by mom and was looking for a place to live. It probably got this far and saw activity and climbed up the tree because of it.”

The bear wasn’t fazed by strong winds that made the tree sway. Because the bear had climbed so high, Wakkinen said an attempt to tranquilize it would have resulted in severe injuries.

“It would ping-pong down and get hurt so we are just going to wait,” Wakkinen said.

Wakkinen initially estimated that the bear would stay in the tree throughout the day and only attempt to come down when it got dark. However, at 11:30 a.m. — lunch time? — the bear began climbing down.

The animal was shot with a tranquilizer when it got to a safe height in the tree. Before it was fully sedated, the animal was seen running across the athletic field near the school.

It made it to the baseball field behind the school before it succumbed to the tranquilizer and was safely captured by Fish and Game.

“We’re going to take it back to headquarters and observe it,” Wakkinen said. “We will eventually put it in a trap with wheels and a hitch and set it free in Unit Four at the Coeur d’Alene River Drainage. That’s a little more appropriate home for it, I think.”

Laura Rumpler, spokesperson for the Coeur d'Alene School District, said parents and guardians were notified through the district's emergency alert system that the animal was near the school.

The only interference the bear caused to the school day was at lunchtime, School Resource Officer Tom Sparks said. Lunch was held inside, but other than that it was business as usual.

“I don’t think they’ve seen a real mascot this close to Woodland ever,” Sparks said.

TESS FREEMAN/Press A young black bear was captured by Idaho Fish and Game after spending a several hours in a tree near Woodland Middle School. Idaho Fish and Game will release the bear back into the wild.

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