A typical Wednesday afternoon at the corner of Oklahoma and Janet streets ended in an extraordinary way when a young bear wandered into the area, drawing crowds of people and a bevy of law enforcement and first responders.
Cherokee County Game Warden Brady May said the small bear was first sighted Wednesday morning near the movie theater on the northeast bypass. May and Game Warden Cody Youngblood went looking for the bear, and later, authorities gave chase to it when it ventured near the Northeastern State campus. The animal eventually climbed a tree near Oklahoma and Janet.
“In the spring, usually the young males get kicked out on their own and start looking for their own territory, so that might be what happened here,” said May. “He just went into unfamiliar territory.”
May estimated the cub to weigh around 120 pounds.
Authorities were determined to get the cub out of the tree alive, and spent nearly two hours making the arrangements. A house was just to the north of the tree, and below, a chain-link fence proved a possible threat if the cub fell.
Game wardens arrived at the scene and decided to sedate the bear with a tranquilizer. They called for help from area wildlife biologists. Police, firefighters and medics borrowed a soccer net from NSU and gathered at the base of the tree, ready to catch the drowsy animal after it was shot.
Wildlife biologists Curt Allen and Colby Farquhar, from the Cookson Game Refuge, arrived to help safely capture the bear.
The first shot missed when the wind caught the tranquilizer dart, and the cub climbed higher into the tree. Round two was on target, but after a length of time, the bear was clinging to the tree.
Finally, a third tranquilizer was fired and hit the mark, and the bear soon after tumbled toward the ground, where authorities safely caught him in the net. He was quickly moved to a small metal trap.
May said the cub will become part of an ongoing, multi-year study into bear populations in Cherokee, Adair and Sequoyah counties. After biologists gather some biological information from the cub, he will be released into the wild in either the Cookson or Spavinaw area, May said.
“It’s not an uncommon thing at all to have a sighting or a report of a bear in Cherokee County,” said May, “especially in the county.”
In more populated areas, like Tahlequah, there’s likely some bear presence from time to time, but May believes they just aren’t seen in the open.
Preliminary estimates show there could be as many as 150 of the animals ranging among Cherokee, Adair and Sequoyah counties – and experts believe the population is growing, as bears from southeast Oklahoma and western Arkansas migrate this way. Sightings are frequent, especially in southern parts of Cherokee County.
The collaborative wildlife study of bears in the area, through a partnership with Oklahoma State University, will help determine if there is a sustainable bear population. Eventually, the state can decide whether a limited, regulated hunting season is needed in the three-county area.
May said bear sightings in Cherokee County can be reported to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife.
And for those who want to keep bears out of their yards, May said it’s best to consider what the animals will be seeking.
“Bears are opportunists,” said May. “They’ll look for trash cans, they’ll look for deer feeders or pet food that’s left out.”
Look for the Press' photos to the right. Near the bottom of the list, you'll see three additional photos provided by Tahlequah Police Detective Jeff Haney, who was one of several officers following the bear in the city today; and three more photos provided by Game Warden Brady May, which show some of the bears wildlife experts have found in the area during a multi-year study into the animals.