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Record number of burned bears this summer at PAWS Wildlife Center

Sep 1, 2021, 8:53 AM | Updated: Sep 2, 2021, 6:09 am
burned bears...
A black bear cub is in recovery from burns suffered in the Cedar Creek Wildfire. Staff at the PAWS Wildlife Center say they've seen a record number of burned bears in 2021. (Photo courtesy of PAWS)
(Photo courtesy of PAWS)

The PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood is currently treating multiple black bear cubs burned in Washington wildfires, far more than the staff has ever seen in a single summer.

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One of those bears is a 7-month-old cub, dubbed Cedar Creek Wildfire Bear, who was found alone, injured, and with a badly burned face in a fire zone near Mazama. Firefighters kept an eye on the cub until animal specialists could arrive. It’s thought that she was unable to keep up with her mother or fled up a tree to avoid the danger and got caught up in the fire.

“She’s an absolute trooper,” Dr. Nicki Rosenhagen, PAWS wildlife veterinarian, said of the bear with second-degree burns on her face and feet. “Her resilience is inspiring, and in spite of all the trauma and stress she’s endured, she’s acting as much like a normal bear cub as she can — eating, sleeping, and even starting to play.”

After impressive progress, the team put a “howdy” door between her enclosure and that of two other orphaned black bear cubs who came into care in May. The three bears could see and smell one another, while staying separated. They have now all officially met after the barrier was removed.

Rosenhagen says that cub and the others should recover enough to be released back into the wild.

Two other severely burned bears came into the center on Aug. 23 and Aug. 26 from the Twenty-Five Mile Fire in Lake Chelan. The two are confirmed to be siblings and are undergoing treatment similar to that of the Cedar Creek Wildfire Bear for even more severe burns to their legs and feet. They’re currently housed separately while they stabilize from trauma and injuries.

PAWS normally treats an average of six bears a year, but rarely for burns.

“What we’re seeing is extremely unusual,” said Jennifer Convy, the PAWS wildlife director. “The number of severely burned bears coming to PAWS is not something I’ve seen in my 25 years at PAWS.”

PAWS has been admitting black bears for rehabilitations since 1987. It’s the largest bear rehabilitation facility in Washington state.

Convy says the black bears are big enough that they are seen and rescued, but other wildlife is not always as lucky.

“[The bears are] a representative, I would say, for all of the other animals that are suffering,” she said.

During a record year for wildfires, like the state has had in 2021, the impact on wildlife is often overlooked. Many animals are forced to flee burning habitat or succumb.

Hilary Franz, the state’s Commissioner of Public Lands, noted that wildfires can threaten people, property, and the wild animals that live in the path of the fire.

“This fire season, we’re experiencing a historic number of fires: We have seen already more fires in 2021 than we saw in all of 2020, with more than 1,650 fires that have burned more than 630,000 acres. And the season is far from over — drought and extreme temperatures left us at risk of heightened wildfire danger deep into September and October,” Franz said.

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Community members who want to help support the care of injured and orphaned wild animals at PAWS Wildlife Center can donate here.

The KIRO Radio Newsdesk contributed to this report.

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Record number of burned bears this summer at PAWS Wildlife Center