By Ann McCreary
Almost four months after she was discovered on French Creek, limping on badly burned paws, Cinder the bear has returned to the Northwest and will spend the winter at an Idaho rehabilitation center before returning to the Methow Valley.
Cinder, who attracted international attention after her rescue last summer, was settling into her new accommodations at Idaho Black Bear Rehabilitation (IBBR) after arriving on Sunday (Nov. 23).
“She’s being very calm, seems quite happy and is eating fine,” said Sally Maughan, founder and president of IBBR.
A victim of the Carlton Complex Fire, Cinder was flown to the Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care (LTWC) facility on Aug. 4, two weeks after the firestorm roared through the valley.
She spent almost four months at LTWC, being treated for burns on all her paws, as well as her head and chest. She spent several weeks with bandages on her paws.
A second-year cub (born in 2013), Cinder was emaciated and weighed only 39 pounds when she arrived for treatment. When her caregivers at LTWC determined she was healed and healthy enough to move to the rehabilitation center, Cinder weighed in at 97.5 pounds.
Cinder was sedated and given one final exam before being placed in a large wildlife carrier with a bed of pine needles for her trip north from Lake Tahoe. LTWC founders Tom and Cheryl Millham drove Cinder in the back of their covered pickup truck to the rehab center near Boise.
Cinder’s arrival at IBBR was documented by local television stations and newspapers, and the story was picked up by CBS, said Maughan.
The bear was released into a covered, outdoor enclosure, which she calmly explored before eventually curling up on a pile of hay for a sleep, Maughan said.
A younger bear cub is in an enclosure next to Cinder, and Maughan expects to let the two bears share the same enclosure before long. “We want them to have companionship to develop play behavior and socialize,” she said. That socialization is important to a successful return to the wild, she said.
Cinder is likely to hibernate during the cold winter months to come, Maughan said. The bears’ food will be reduced and treats will be eliminated to encourage them to hibernate. The enclosures have shelters made to resemble the bears’ natural dens.
Cinder’s time at IBBR will allow the pads of her paws to toughen up in preparation for her release back into the wild. Maughan said. Rich Beausoleil, bear specialist for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, will probably collect Cinder in late May or June and return her for release back in the Methow Valley.
Beausoleil said Cinder will be fitted with a radio collar when she is set free so biologists can monitor her.
During her stay at Lake Tahoe for treatment, Cinder was affectionately described by staff as a “nasty” bear that despised her caretakers. At her new home in Idaho, Cinder is maintaining her cranky reputation.
When a staff member entered her enclosure to clean it, Cinder “woofed and said, ‘this is my territory.’ She clapped her lips and stomped,” Maughan said.
“She makes it clear she’s in charge here.”