A new pledge from private donors to match $500,000 in contributions for a $1 million expansion at a Lake Tahoe wildlife rescue center is bringing smiles back to staff and volunteers, who have been on an emotional roller coaster since a bear cub being treated for severe wildfire burns escaped this summer.
Since Tamarack — named after a wildfire that burned across more than 100 square miles (259 square kilometers) in the Sierra and severely burned the cub’s paws — tunneled under an electric fence and fled back to the wild, the Lake Tahoe Wildlife Center has been making repairs directed by California regulators.
It was the first escape in the center’s 45-year history in South Lake Tahoe, California.
Volunteers spotted and photographed a cub clinging to a tree 40 feet (12 meters) up in a nearby forest two days later. They became convinced that it was the 6-month-old escapee, decided to leave him alone, and now believe he is fine.
The contribution announced this week by the Bentley Foundation and MH Buckeye may be the happy ending they’ve been looking for.
The center has continued to rescue smaller animals, and seven rehabilitated coyote pups were recently released. However, it has been barred from accepting large game, including bears, since the California Department of Fish and Wildlife declared in October that it needed to improve its enclosures and fencing.
“Once completed, CDFW will conduct a site inspection and evaluate (the center’s) request to renew its agreement to temporarily possess and rehabilitate injured and orphaned black bear cubs,” CDFW spokesman Peter Tira said in an email on Wednesday.
Erfani stated that supply-chain issues have delayed immediate repairs, but the center should be fully operational by next month, bears and all. The hospital with two large recovery rooms, surgery and X-ray areas, individual care buildings for different species, and a small dormitory for staff providing round-the-clock care are all part of the expansion — all at the location where young Tamarack briefly called home.
The story of his rescue-turned-escape began on July 26 when a homeowner in Markleeville, California, noticed the cub crawling on his knees due to his badly burned paws.
Photos of the bandaged black bear at the rescue center went viral on social media and were mentioned in international news coverage of the devastating fire that forced thousands of people to flee.
“Tamarack was the first ‘feel good’ story to emerge from the fire.” “It was all devastation and heartbreak, and then there was this little guy who had survived,” Erfani explained this week. “Of course, that little stinker wasn’t going to be confined. He just wanted to get out.” The center announced his escape on Aug. 3 and advised anyone who saw him to stay away and report any sightings to wildlife officials.
Another flurry of publicity followed, this time less flattering.
“We were slammed on social media. “Everyone was being mean,” Erfani recalled. “Because we had connections with him, it was very emotional for us.” “A lot of people were furious.”
Meanwhile, the center was doing everything it could to capture the cub, including sending up heat-seeking drones, which are sometimes used to locate lost hikers, according to Erfani. “We spent a lot of time and money looking for him.” We didn’t give up because we were afraid he wouldn’t survive.”
It paid off when the cub was spotted clinging to the tree.
Tamarack was not like older bears who had died as a result of issues such as drought-caused food shortages — abandon the woods to rummage through garbage and sometimes break into Lake Tahoe homes.