Heather Clarke’s alarm went off at 5 a.m. Friday, the same time as most mornings. She likes to start her days early.
A cup of coffee in her hand, she sat in front of her window to watch the sunrise, as she normally does. Then she noticed a small, furry brown leg scurry up the side of a pine tree.
“I thought it was a really big raccoon at first because I didn’t have my glasses on yet,” Clarke said. “I was like, ‘Is that a bear? I think that’s a bear!’”
The bear, a yearling black bear cub, settled into a spot about 60 feet high in the tree, by Clarke’s estimate. Then he fell asleep.
The Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife Services responded to Clarke’s call about the bear around 7 a.m. Friday.
Staci Lehman, communications manager for Fish & Wildlife, said the bear found itself in a South Hill residential area near Garfield and Arthur streets. Lehman said the department doesn’t know what compelled the bear to go to the neighborhood, but Clarke said she and other neighbors heard a bear in the area the week before.
The bear, who Clarke nicknamed ‘Paddington,’ remained quiet and docile most of the day. He got up from his nap around noon and started to rummage around the backyard, she said.
“He’s been really mellow this whole time,” Clarke said. “Poor thing just doesn’t know what to do right now.”
Lehman said the animal weighs 70 to 80 pounds, which is the average weight for its age.
The animal did not pose any risk to the area as of Friday afternoon, Lehman said. In fact, responders were more concerned about its health during the excessive heat warning gripping the state. Lehman said the bear likely climbed the tree to get out of the sun.
“He’s probably really scared, and animals do not do well in this kind of heat,” Lehman said.
The Fish & Wildlife crew also faced the challenge of how to remove the bear without causing it unnecessary pain, Lehman said.
Responders placed a culvert trap in the backyard. The trap, used commonly for animal captures, has two cage doors on either side of a tube-like structure crews fill with food for the animal, Lehman said. Most of the time, the bear will crawl in, the cage doors close and the animal is able to be safely removed.
Paddington seemed to have different plans, Clarke said. The cub went to the trap and maneuvered the food out, managing to avoid both cage doors.
Once the crews rescue the bear, Lehman said they will check on it before releasing it back to the wild. If the bear is in worse condition, he will likely stay with Fish & Wildlife Services to receive medical treatment.
Clarke, who has lived in the apartment for 14 years, never saw a bear run into the neighborhood like this. She said she stayed home most of Friday to watch the bear from her second-floor patio, worried for the bear’s health.
“It’s so bizarre he’s in this part of town. It’s really rare, and he’s in a really bad spot right now,” Clarke said.
Fish & Wildlife Services continued to monitor the situation Friday afternoon, Lehman said.