As wildfires become more frequent across the Pacific Northwest, animals have been forced to flee their habitat or die. At PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood, three orphaned black bear cubs are receiving life-saving treatment for severe burns from fires that destroyed their homes.
Currently, three bear cubs are being rehabilitated at PAWS for burns sustained from the Cedar Creek and Twenty-Five Mile wildfires. On Tuesday, wildlife experts held a press conference to provide an update on their recovery. PAWS Wildlife Director Jennifer Convy said the cubs are just a small sample of the animals impacted by the fires.
Typically, the center rehabilitates about six bears each year but rarely for wildfire burns.
“The number of severely burned bears coming to PAWS is not something I’ve seen in my 25 years at PAWS,” she said.
Treatments include placing cubs under anesthesia while veterinarians remove dead tissue, clean underlying tissue, apply antimicrobial cream and change bandages.
The first cub — a seven-month-old female — arrived on July 27 after firefighters spotted her escaping the Cedar Creek fire burning in Mazama, Wash. When she arrived at PAWS, the cub had second-degree burns on her face, ears and feet. Weighing only 13 pounds, experts said the cub was also undernourished and had probably been alone for days.
The swelling on her face had obscured her right eye, but after multiple treatments veterinarians were able to save both eyes. However, scarring makes it difficult for the cub to fully open her right eye.
In August, three more cubs were found near the Twenty-Five Mile Fire near Chelan and brought to Lynnwood. Two of the cubs were confirmed to be siblings and are receiving treatments similar to those given to the Cedar Creek cub. While the siblings are responding, one of the cubs has begun exhibiting intermittent head tremoring and PAWS is working with a veterinarian neurologist to diagnose the issue.
The other bear — a female yearling — arrived with injuries veterinarians said were too severe to treat, and they chose to euthanize her.
Though the cubs are still on the mend, Convy said they’re cautiously optimistic about their recovery and hope to release them back into the wild next spring.
“They’re so resilient and they’re so tough,” she said.
However, where to release the bears is still to be determined. With their habitats destroyed, State Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said wildlife experts will have to find some other place for the cubs to call home.
“Those landscapes have charred and burned to such an intensity, many of them, that it will take many years for that area to come back,” she said.
During the news conference, Franz also pointed out that roughly 90% of wildfires in the state are started by humans. With the Labor Day holiday approaching, Franz encouraged people to adhere to burn bans and make sure fires are fully extinguished before being left unattended.
“We can put a close to this year’s wildfire season and it starts — not just with the rain falling — but (with) each and every one of us,” she said.
For more information about PAWS’ work rehabilitating the wild fire bears, click here.
— By Cody Sexton