A bear was rescued Monday in northern Minnesota after hibernating partly in a snowy culvert that flooded, trapping the animal in ice and snow.
The male black bear — estimated at 400 pounds — decided to cuddle up and spend the winter in the culvert in a ditch alongside a road near Wannaska, south of Roseau, according to a Facebook post from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
It's not unusual for bears to hibernate above ground, the department said, but melting snow flooded the culvert and the bear got stuck after a recent thaw and refreeze.
The bear was stuck for three days, according to KVLY-TV.
After arriving early Monday and finding the bear stuck in snow partly above ground, DNR bear biologist Andrew Tri anesthetized the bear. It knocked the bear out in about 10 minutes, Tri said.
Conservation officers, a Roseau County deputy and Tri dug the bear out of the snow, and found that one of its legs was lodged in the snow.
"We were carefully digging around the bear making sure we don't injure him, basically trying to find the rest of his body stuck under the snow, and all of a sudden the snow popped loose," Tri said.
Using a cargo net, a local landowner joined in to help lift the bear out of the culvert and to the nearby road.
Because of the bear's size, it would not have been able to escape on its own, Tri said. The biologist said it's possible the bear was attempting to dig its way out of the roughly 5 feet of snow before getting stuck again.
After the rescue, Tri examined the bear and determined it was healthy, albeit a little groggy from being woken from winter slumber.
The bear, thought to be around 6 years old, was safely relocated to a state sanctuary near Thief Lake in nearby in Marshall County to continue hibernating.
Some people who first came across the bear tried to dig it out of the snow and served it food, which the DNR advised against in its Facebook post. The passersby offered the bear six Pop Tarts, a head of lettuce, a dead sucker minnow, wet cat food, bird seed and Swedish fish candy, according to the post. The bear "luckily" did not bite the people trying to dig it out, the DNR said.
Tri noted that he thinks people had good intentions by trying to help the bear before the DNR got there, but added that when a bears are in such a dire situation they aren't thinking about eating.
"People had their hearts in the right place," Tri said.
The department reminded people to not bother a bear found in the wild or near someone's house.
"If you're ever concerned about a bear's safety by all means give us a call," the DNR post states. "But don't try to move it or feed it! Doing so can result in a bad situation (either for you or the bear)."
Many of the Facebook comments criticized the DNR for its response to the bear's predicament. The commenters were upset, and alleged one DNR worker suggested days ago it would be best "to let nature take its course."
Others were frustrated that several days passed before the bear was rescued.
The DNR responded in a Facebook comment Monday evening that it's often best to not intervene.
"We know that sounds unfeeling, but it's typically better for animals (and humans) when we allow that to happen," the reply said.
The DNR reply went on to say that in most cases a bear could escape a wet culvert on its own, but that in this case they determined it was necessary to pull the bear out. In response to comments saying it took too long to rescue the bear, the DNR said it can take time to get the rescue team and equipment in place.
"In an evolving situation like this, we don't always have all of the details right away," the DNR said. "Then, it can take a while to get the proper personnel, gear, and equipment in place."
More information about living near bears in Minnesota can be found online at dnr.state.mn.us/livingwith_wildlife/bears/index.html.