The result was a scene reminiscent of a bear jam in Yellowstone National Park — vehicles lined the side of Lane 8 east of the Park County Annex while people pointed out the bear’s location in the tree to newcomers, all while law enforcement officers motioned traffic through.
Game & Fish regional spokeswoman Tara Teaschner said Powell Game Warden Chris Queen received a call at 6:30 a.m. about the bear, which had climbed a cottonwood tree.
Queen, Powell police officers and Park County Sheriff’s officers responded and monitored the situation while waiting for additional Game & Fish employees to arrive with needed equipment.
Reinforcements arrived around 8:30 a.m. in the form of Alan Osterland, regional wildlife supervisor for the Cody region, and Kyle Bales, large carnivore biologist for the region. They brought a dart gun to tranquilize the bear and a culvert trap to transport it.
Gymnastic mats from Powell Middle School were placed strategically under the tree to cushion the bear’s fall, said Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt.
When everything was in place, onlookers were moved back and Bales shot the bear with a dart. It fell onto the mat when the tranquilizer took effect a few minutes later.
Once it was on the ground, Bales began a short examination of the small black bear, which he said was a yearling male “looking for its way in the world.” He tagged the bear’s ears and drew blood for analysis.
The tags will identify the bear if it should get into any more trouble, Bales said.
Then, while the bear still was thoroughly tranquilized, he invited three children to touch the bear.
Teaschner said the yearling bear weighed 50 pounds. It was taken back to headquarters and moved to the South Fork area later Thursday, she said.
“The bear is up in the trap and is moving around; it looks good,” she said Thursday afternoon.
While the weight of yearling black bears varies greatly, “we would expect a yearling black bear to weigh about 60 to 80 pounds this time of year,” she said.
An adult male black bear generally weighs between 200 and 250 pounds, Teaschner said.
“Black bears keep their cubs for a year and a half. Then, in the spring, the mother will kick them off and wean them,” she said. “Oftentimes, you’ll have yearling bears that, once they get away from their mother, they’re kind of like teenagers.”
While it’s unusual to have a bear this close to town, it’s also not unheard of, Teaschner said.
“Occasionally, we will have a bear wander into town, either in Cody or Powell,” she said.
Bears use natural travel corridors, such as rivers, that sometimes lead them through populated areas, she added.
“Obviously, this bear was in a place where it could not successfully make a living,” she said. “Our response is a preventative action. We act in a preventive way to give the bear the best chance of surviving out in the wild.
“We’re also minimizing the chance that that bear will get into a conflict with people, such as receiving food rewards — like getting into someone’s garbage — or encountering people,” Teaschner said.