Steve Niemela, biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, was among those who fought through blackberries to reach a tranquilized bear that drowned in Bear Creek at Hawthorne Park.

Wayward bear drowns

A bear seen wandering in a downtown Medford neighborhood and Hawthorne Park early Monday drowned in Bear Creek after wildlife biologists attempted to tranquilize and relocate it.

The 109-pound male, which likely was lured down Bear Creek by blackberries, was shot with tranquilizer darts about 8:20 a.m. by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Mark Vargas, who said his plan was to release it in the mountains and away from people.

Before the drugs could work through the bear's body, the animal ran from a blackberry patch in the park and into Bear Creek, where it fell unconscious in 2 feet of water, Vargas said.

Vargas and others fought through blackberries under the Interstate 5 viaduct in an effort to reach the downed bruin in time, but they failed as Red Lion Hotel patrons watched.

"We couldn't get to it fast enough," Vargas said.

There were no reports of damage complaints or the bear threatening anyone, Vargas said. The area around the bear was cordoned off by Medford police, and the dart-and-relocate attempt was an alternative to shooting the bear, Vargas said.

"It's down pretty deep into Medford," Vargas said. "You'd like to back off and let the bear go away, but you can't, really, in that (circumstance).

"That was just a bad spot for a bear," he said. "You never want to see this outcome."

The bear was about 2 years old, Vargas said.

The incident began about 6:40 a.m. when Medford police received telephone calls about a bear walking down the street in the 700 block of Cardley Avenue, police said.

One of those calling in the sighting followed the bear as it wandered down the street, through the Medford Shopping Center and into Hawthorne Park.

Medford police responded and discovered the bear in the park, police said. Officers set up a perimeter and halted morning joggers while keeping an eye on the bear until Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division officers and Vargas arrived, police said.

The bear's meat could not be salvaged and given safely to the Gleaning Network because the tranquilizers had worked their way through the bear's body, Vargas said.

The animal was buried Monday near the ODFW offices at the Denman Wildlife Area in Central Point.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail at

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