Injured bear treated by South Lake Tahoe wildlife center returns to wild in Washington

Cinder the bear, shown in August, was badly burned and treated at a Lake Tahoe center before a transfer to Idaho.
Cinder the bear, shown in August, was badly burned and treated at a Lake Tahoe center before a transfer to Idaho. Sacramento Bee file

Cinder the bear’s future looked bleak in late July when she was spotted in the area of a Washington forest fire, crawling on her elbows and knees because all four paws were severely burned.

Wednesday, after 10 months of medical treatment and rehabilitation, the 2 1/2-year-old female returned to the wild accompanied by a male companion, the same day an iBook recounting her remarkable recovery was scheduled for release.

Cinder’s condition when she arrived at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care Inc. on Aug. 5 was critical, said Cheryl Millham, co-founder and director of the wildlife care center in South Lake Tahoe.

“She was so underweight that they thought she was a 2014 cub,” Millham said. It was later determined that she had been born a year earlier.

“It’s a joy to know that she’s out there free, running across the mountains where she belongs,” Millham said Wednesday.

Weighing just 34 pounds when she was rescued by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on Aug. 1, she tipped the scales at 120 pounds when was released about 9 a.m. Wednesday, said Rich Beausoleil, a bear and cougar specialist with the department.

The injured bear was spotted by Steve Love, a landowner from Methow, Wash., who was also a victim of the Carlton Complex fire, which started July 8. The largest fire in Washington state’s history, it burned hundreds of homes and destroyed wildlife habitat.

Cinder was flown by the volunteer organization Pilots for Paws to South Lake Tahoe, where veterinarian Kevin Willitts of South Lake Tahoe’s Alpine Animal Hospital, along with Millham and her staff, provided medical care. Initially, Millham said, they had to sedate Cinder daily and take her into the wildlife care center’s clinic, where they washed, medicated and bandaged her paws.

Four months into the bear’s recovery, Millham said they drove Cinder to the Idaho Black Bear Rehabilitation center in Boise. The Idaho facility provided dirt-floored enclosures, instead of concrete, which were better suited to the bear’s continued recovery, Millham said.

On Tuesday, Cinder, along with Kaulana, a younger male cub Cinder befriended at the Idaho center, were taken to Wenatchee, Wash. Beausoleil said Kaulana hailed from an area near Leavenworth, Wash., and the two bears were released in an area between their respective birth sites.

Beausoleil said Cinder was marked with tags and outfitted with a GPS radio collar, which transmits her location five times per day. Wildlife officials hope to visit her den in coming years and keep her collared, allowing them to monitor her whereabouts.

Beausoleil said releasing rehabilitated bears in pairs decreases their dependence on people and the likelihood that they would venture into populated areas. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has collected data on about 550 such bears over several decades and reports a 96 percent success rate for returning bears to the wild.

Cinder’s story drew the interest of children’s book author Barbara deRubertisCQ and Wenatchee media producer Malcolm KeithlyCQ, who partnered to write and produce “Cinder the Bear: A True Story of Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release,” which was scheduled to go on sale on iBooks on Wednesday. Proceeds from the book’s sale will be split between the South Lake Tahoe and Boise centers that cared for Cinder.