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Neighbors rally around stuck bear: They tossed him Pop-Tarts and then started digging

A bear that got stuck in the snow won the sympathy of Minnesotans, who tossed fish and Pop-Tarts and then came up with a plan to dig him out.

An adult male bear that became stuck in the deep snow of a ditch southwest of Wannaska in Roseau County was rescued on Feb. 6, 2023, with the help of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officers. (Forum News Service)

Wildlife officers took over the excavation effort, and the bear was freed Monday and on his way to a new den.

Neighbors near the community of Wannaska, in the state’s northwest corner, became aware of the bear’s predicament on Sunday.

Nobody knew for sure what was preventing him from leaving, but he was stuck in a ditch with just his head above the snow.

Andy Tri, bear project leader for the state’s Department of Natural Resources, said the bear — an adult male weighing about 400 pounds — had made a den in a culvert. During a recent period of warm weather, water began flowing, and the bear apparently tried to leave.

“I don’t think he was totally frozen in,” Tri said. “I think he just got caught up in some of that thick ice … and just hooked himself goofy.”

Spencer Krohn of Greenbush was one person who took to social media on Sunday to try to coordinate an effort to dig the bear out that evening.

“We were going to go out there and take every precaution necessary, but basically we just wanted to dig it free enough so it could get out,” he said.

He said a local couple had started to dig the bear out before wildlife officials arrived on the scene and blocked off the area.

“So we kind of had to stand around and wait for their decision,” said Krohn.

Tri said he first heard about the situation about 5:30 p.m. Sunday, when he received a call from Kyle Arola, a wildlife manager at nearby Thief Lake. Arola and another state conservation officer had tried poking the bear with a stick. Usually, that’s enough to get them moving, but it was clear in this case that the bear was stuck.

The two men stayed at the site until “way after dark” Sunday night, Tri said.

“All they could do last night was keep him safe and keep folks out of the area to make sure they’re not messing with him or stressing him out by taking pictures and getting too close,” Tri said on Monday. “And then, it was textbook after that.”

Tri drove up from Grand Rapids early Monday and administered a sedative to the bear. He and four other DNR officers used a rope with “paw cuffs” to extract the animal from the deep snow.

It took them “20 minutes max” to free the bear, he said.

The bear showed no sign of frostbite despite its ordeal, Tri said.

Ear tags were affixed to the sedated bear, and he was put in the bed of a pickup truck for a ride to the Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area.

“We’ll make him a new den,” Tri said Monday. “He probably won’t stay, but at least it will give him some protection from the elements after that.”

Tri said some of the locals who saw the bear stuck in snow tried to help by tossing food such as a sucker fish, lettuce and Pop Tarts.

“That’s one thing that I love about greater Minnesota is that everybody’s willing to lend a hand,” Tri said. “Bears aren’t eating this time of year, but their hearts were in the right place.”

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