KETCHIKAN — A tiny bear cub received another chance at life when local hiker Michael Schuler released its head from a plastic jug on the top of Deer Mountain on Sunday.
Schuler said Tuesday that he had gone up the mountain that day to conduct some avalanche testing. Because it was a beautiful day, he decided to head up to the summit with Josie the dog, he said, and about 10 feet from the top, he saw what at first glance appeared to be a human lying in the snow.
“I thought, ‘Uh oh. How am I going to deal with this?”’ he said.
Schuler worked his way up to the hairy object and realized it was an animal with its head stuck in a jar, but it was covered with snow and he couldn’t tell what it was.
“I knew it wasn’t a marten, ... so I thought it was either a bear cub or a wolverine,” he said, adding that he thought: “A bear cub I can handle, but if it’s a wolverine and I pull that thing off, I’m toast.”
Schuler said he made a couple of calls on his cell phone, trying to track down a wildlife official for some advice. He wasn’t able to contact anyone — and in the meantime figured out that wolverines don’t live in this area — so “I finally just decided to have a go at this,” all the time wondering whether an anxious sow was nearby.
“That’s always the first question: ‘Where’s mamma?”’ he said.
Mamma never showed as Schuler — who tied Josie out of the way — first tried hanging onto the jar to let the cub pull, then tried pulling while the cub also pulled, and then picked up the jar to give it a little shake.
“He still didn’t come out, poor thing,” Schuler said.
The shake didn’t work, but it did encourage the cub to start bawling, he said, and that encouraged Josie to chew through her restraint and rush over to “help.”
A reprimand sent Josie away, and Schuler used an ice ax to anchor the plastic jar to the snow while he tried a different tactic.
“I was basically able to sit on him, hold him by the scruff and make a slice into the neck of the jar,” he said.
When Schuler had cut far enough, he said, the cub “popped out, backed up, spun around and went straight down the south side into the trees.”
That’s the end of the story, Schuler said, other than a set of fresh bear cub tracks that he saw while descending the mountain.
Schuler said he was upset that someone had left the jar on the mountain. He said he saw where it had been stuck upright and lidless in the snow, and that it appeared to have been left recently. Schuler encouraged people to pack their own trash out, and to pick up after others.
“Just because some people are careless, doesn’t mean we should overlook it,” he said. “Think about what’s up there.”
Schuler said the cub was small, about 10 pounds, and appeared to have given up when he happened upon it.
“His future was pretty said and done,” Schuler said. “He wasn’t going to move. He probably would have lain there until he died.”