Alas, the black bear could not call Tacoma home.
The 220-pound female visited Point Defiance Park, Ruston Way, Stadium High School and downtown Tacoma before wildlife officials caught up to her early Thursday and moved her back to the woods.
The bear – believed to be about 4 years old – caused no problems during her four-day vacation to the city, just a little buzz of excitement. She didn’t root around in trash cans or pester small pets. She tried to steer clear of people and moseyed away peacefully when she encountered them.
“It’s not like she’s a problem bear,” said Jeff Summit, an officer with the state Department of Fish & Wildlife. “She just found herself in a bad area.”
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The sightings started Sunday at Lake Steilacoom and increased once the bear reached Tacoma’s North End. Wildlife officers interviewed people who saw her and patrolled nearby areas looking for the bear.
“There was a bunch of calls coming in,” Sgt. Ted Jackson said.
The officers were directed to Stadium High School about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, but the bear had moved on by the time they arrived. Then came word just before midnight that the bear was walking down the sidewalk on Pacific Avenue.
It even made a stop near a fast-food restaurant on 21st Street.
A wildlife officer took his Karelian bear dog Spencer to check it out. He asked one startled man if he’d seen a black bear. The man had not – and did not seem to know if the officer was serious.
Then a group of people pointed toward the bear, which had gotten cozy in a grassy lot near 24th Street.
Hearing people approach, the black bear lumbered away but accidentally ran into a blackberry-covered chain-link fence around the lot. She turned around and then ran straight at the pursuing officer.
Spencer stepped between them and chased the bear up a 30-foot-tall cottonwood tree – the only tree on the lot.
Summit arrived and shot the bear in the shoulder with a dart. It took about 10 minutes before the drugs kicked in and the bear half climbed and half fell out of the tree.
Wildlife officers rolled the bear onto a tarp, laid her in the bed of a truck and drove her to a waiting trap in Steilacoom. The bear spent most of the morning at a safe location, waiting for the drugs to wear off.
Because a hunter might shoot the bear in her new home, wildlife officers attached an ear tag warning people that her meat could be tainted from the drugs and to call for more information.
By lunchtime, the bear was driven to the Cascade foothills. Since the bear had never had cubs, the officers were OK with not returning her to her previous habitat.
To make sure the bear didn’t decide to return to town, two Karelian bear dogs spent the better part of a half hour barking at the bear to intimidate it.
A Washington State Patrol trooper and a wildlife officer armed themselves with shotguns loaded with bean bags. The dogs, still barking, stood on either side of the cage.
Then officer Bruce Richards unlatched the door and the bear stepped out.
In seconds, she was shot with bean bags, firecrackers were set off in the air above and Richards shouted at the bear to get on out.
Just in case she wasn’t afraid of all the noise, the two dogs chased the bear a few hundred yards into the trees.
She didn’t look back.