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Bear rescued from tree in Oxnard, on the way back to wild

May 4, 2010 | 11:41 am
A 200-pound black bear was tranquilized Tuesday morning, wrangled into a harness and lowered from a tree in an Oxnard neighborhood, where it had perched for three hours as TV helicopters whirred overhead.

A passerby first spotted the bear about 2:15 a.m. at a fire station in a residential area on Vineyard Avenue, said David Keith, a spokesman for the Oxnard Police Department.

Officers who arrived on the scene tracked the bear as it ran through the neighborhood and climbed a eucalyptus tree next to a condominium complex.

The female bear then climbed down and ran for a while longer before scaling another tree in the Santa Clara Cemetery, where it came to rest about 25 feet above the ground.

Wardens from the state Dept. of Fish and Game shot the animal with tranquilizer darts, and the groggy bear wedged itself in some branches, where it camped out for about three hours.

Firefighters fashioned a harness and used a fire ladder truck to hoist the bear from the tree and onto the ground about 9:15 a.m. It will be released at an undisclosed mountain location.

"This is the ending that we always hope for when dealing with bears that make their way into urban areas," said Paul Hamdorf, assistant chief of enforcement for the state Department of Fish and Game, in an e-mail.

Game wardens “will stay with the animal until it’s completely out of the state of tranquilization and is deemed able to fend for itself," said Harry Morse, a spokesman for Fish and Game. "So when it’s able to walk off, the wardens will leave."

Authorities were at a loss for how the bear, a rare sight in any residential area, made its way to a heavily populated part of the coastal city of Oxnard, just a few blocks from the 101 Freeway.

Police speculated the animal wandered down from the Los Padres National Forest and traveled along the mostly dry Santa Clara River, which runs within a half-mile from the site where it was first spotted.

Another explanation is that bears are simply flourishing in Southern California.

“What we’ve seen all the way up the coast is an increase in bear sightings and bear incidents,” Morse said.

Police in Monrovia — where bear sightings are more common — received 464 calls regarding bears in 2009, according to Morse.

“Bear populations all up and down the coast have been doing quite well,” he said. “Last year, just outside of Oxnard, we had a bear outside an apartment complex."

The bear likely wandered down from the hills at night, crossing strawberry fields filled with fruit, Morse said.

“They move at night mainly,” Morse said. “They just keep moving and following little pathways, and they are suddenly way away from where they would normally be seen.”

Bears can move up to 150 miles in two or three days and can roam through sparsely vegetated corridors, such as dry creek beds and irrigation canals, looking for food, said Marc Kenyon, a biologist with Fish and Game.

“These bears do kind of wander around,” said Kenyon. “They are 100% garbage-eating machines."

So when wardens return a bear to the wild, they have to pick a remote location far from urban areas.

"They have to take a bear up to 150 miles away or the bear would return to that same spot,” Kenyon said.

--Tony Barboza and Carla Hall

Photo:  With the aid of a ladder truck, the Oxnard Fire Department  lowers a tranquilized  bear down from a tree in Santa Clara Cemetery in Oxnard Tuesday morning. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times