Bears' 'hard release' is hard on humans, too

Bears' 'hard release' is hard on humans, too
POULSBO, Wash. - Two bear cubs caught last year were finally released back into the wild this week - but letting go of these bears tugged at some hearts.

State Fish and Wildlife agents called it a "hard release" - with dogs, noisemakers and bean bag firings - intended to frighten the bears so badly that they wouldn't return to the populated area where they were captured.

But the hard release was just as hard on some humans as it was on the bears.

The two animals have been with PAWS since they were cubs found roaming with their mom too close to homes in Poulsbo. Mom wasn't caught.

"Once one hits the ground, we're going to bean bag it, bean bag it," said Bruce Richards of the Fish and Wildlife Department.

"It went well - obviously it's somewhat hard to watch," added Kevin Mack of PAWS. "It is a hard release and we want the bear to be afraid."

Fish and Wildlife officers fire bean bags at the bears, set off firecrackers and sent dogs after them as they ran off into the woods. This time they didn't go far enough - so the dogs ran one up into a tree to keep them back.

"All you can do is hope for the bears that they're going to become a wild animal again," Richards said. "And they were wild in their own sense but now they're going to be in a different setting where it's truly wild here."

"We're running into the bears have nowhere to go. And so we like to say that it's not so much a bear problem as a habitat problem," explained Dustin Prater of the Fish and Wildlife Department.

The bears more than tripled in weight in the six months they've been with PAWS. They weighed only 50 pounds when they were caught last fall - but today one weighs nearly 170 pounds.

The bears were cared for because they were too young to fend for themselves. Adult bears are normally released back into the wild right after they are captured.

But PAWS made sure that the young bears did not become domesticated.

"They haven't been cuddled or talked to. We don't do anything that would tend to make them see humans as a source of comfort," Mack said.

So they'll stay in the woods - where they belong.