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Bear makes for a wild day in Tualatin

State game officers try to coax black bear away from Tualatin school Wednesday
by: Jaime Valdez Students watch as a 200-pound black bear runs across the Tualatin Elementary School soccer field Wednesday morning. The bear was tranquilized and taken to the coast to be released.

Tualatin Elementary School may be 'Home of the Panthers' but for several hours Wednesday morning it was home to a large black bear.

The 200-pound black bear was spotted at about 5:45 a.m. outside the elementary school and officers from the Tualatin Police Department, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon State Police spent several hours working to tranquilize and then capture the animal.

The school remained in lock-in as the bear wandered around a grassy field behind the school, located at 20405 S.W. 95th Ave.

School was delayed and then later canceled due to the bear but about half of the students didn't get the message in time.

Students who arrived at school were kept inside until the bear was removed.

The bear hopped a chain-link fence onto school property several times and twice ran into a nearby residential neighborhood.

Police used blaring sirens to discourage the bear from getting too close to the school or nearby businesses while crews from Fish and Wildlife worked to get close enough to the bear to tranquilize it.

According to Don VandeBergh, district wildlife biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, crews must be within 20 yards of the bear to fire a tranquilizer dart.

'The difficulty with capturing him today was that the bear was out in the open,' VandeBergh said. 'It's difficult to sneak up on a bear that way.'

Normally, bears like to climb a tree and hide, VandeBergh said, but the open field left him nowhere to go.

'The challenge here today was obviously safety,' he said. 'We obviously had the school right adjacent to where the bear was found. We were concerned for the safety of the public and concerned for the safety of the bear.'

Over time, the bear became more disturbed, VandeBergh said.

At one point the bear jumped the fence onto school grounds and ran across the school's soccer field within 50 yards of reporters and Tualatin police officers and twice the bear crossed Southwest 95th Avenue into a residential neighborhood.

'You could see it was getting more agitated, and that its attitude was changing. The key there was to get it taken care of quickly and safely,' VandeBergh said.

Brent Petersen, who lives on nearby Umiat Court, was in his unfenced backyard at about 10 a.m. when he saw police coming toward him.

'They said 'get back in the house,' and I said 'OK,'' Petersen recalled. 'And they said 'no. Do it now.''

As Petersen watched through his kitchen window, the bear walked through his back yard.

'I watched on the other side of the glass and I was just thought 'Wow. OK, I'll stay inside.'

The bear returned about 45 minutes later and climbed up Petersen's large cedar tree, where Fish and Wildlife biologists were able to shoot him with two tranquilizer darts at about 10:20 a.m.

Officials with the Fish and Wildlife and Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue worked for about three hours to fasten a rope around the bear and safely bring it down.

'Typically a bear comes in looking for food or a mate,' VandeBergh said. 'But a young bear like this will just travel.'

The bear is scheduled to be transported to a remote area along the Oregon coast where it will be released.

'The chances of this bear making it back here are very remote,' he said.

School canceled for bear

Staff at Tualatin Elementary School were notified at about 7 a.m. that a black bear was wandering around nearby.

'When I got the call this morning, I had to ask him to repeat it,' said Tualatin Principal Johanna Cena. 'I said 'I'm sorry, did you say a bear?''

Officials originally delayed school until 9 a.m. and then again until 10:50 before cancelling it all together.

About half of the school's 600 students made it to school before they heard the news of the visitor.

Fifth-grader Arlene Organiz, who walks to school, saw the bear as it wandered near the school's soccer field.

'I saw police officers and the bear in the field,' she said. 'I thought it would be dangerous to go near it and I thought to walk on and not be scared.'

The bear soon became the talk of the school, she said.

'We were all talking about it,' said Tualatin fifth-grader Britton Blanchard. 'We were all excited. Our class is close to where the bear was. We were really excited to see it stand up and everything.'

As the 4-year-old male bear evaded capture for several hours, the school remained in lock-in.

'The kids were really interested in what was going on and they were all really concerned about the safety of the bear,' Cena said. 'Teachers used it as a teachable moment and did some research with kids about habitat and why he might have been in our back field.'

Students spent much of the morning with their noses pressed against the glass, watching the bear from the safety of the classroom.

"We watched its every move,' Blanchard said. 'Everybody crowded around when we saw it jump the fence. Other classes came in and watched some of it too.'

Blanchard's class wrote journal entries about the experience.

'Most of the classmates weren't there,' Blanchard said. 'We were lucky to see it. Other students watched it on the news, but we got the full affect of it all.'

Bear sightings in residential areas are not unusual, wrote Fish and Wildlife in a statement. But the bear was certainly a surprise to the students and nearby residents who crowded the small cul-de-sac to get a peak at the sleeping bear as it descended from the tree.

'It's the last thing you'd expect,' Cena said. 'We're prepared for all kinds of situations, but we don't have any 'bear drills,' for this.'