Marcie Palmer has seen plenty of wildlife in her Kennydale neighborhood. She’s seen coyotes, deer, possums and raccoons. Last summer a cougar was spotted in lower Kennydale. But April 23 was the first Kennydale bear sighting for the City Council member and many of her neighbors.
Kennydale Elementary was abuzz with tall tales when Palmer dropped her son off at school just before 9 a.m. She kept hearing talk of a bear, and at first thought someone at school was dressed in costume. After all, Kennydale’s mascot is the Kodiak bear. But then the students said the bear was outside.
“The kids were telling us there was a bear sighting and a SWAT team over on 16th,” Palmer recalls. “The kids and even the staff were confused. There was a lot of excitement and wild stories going on. Kids were saying they can’t go out to recess because of the bear.”
A school bus stop was moved out of the bear’s path, and police sectioned off Northeast 16th Street from about Aberdeen Avenue Northeast to Dayton Avenue Northeast.
Palmer rushed to Northeast 16th Street and Blaine Avenue Northeast, where a 250-pound black bear was up a tree, surrounded by about 20 Renton firefighters, police officers, an Animal Control officer and Bruce Richards, officer for Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Renton police first received a call about the Kennydale bear from Robbin Schoonmaker just before 6 a.m. Schoonmaker spotted the bear in her yard when she went outside to tend to her barking dog. She called 911.
“I said, ‘I don’t know if this is an emergency, but there’s a huge black bear in my yard,’” Schoonmaker says.
The bear left her yard. She didn’t hear anything about it for about an hour and a half, when she took her son to school.
“I heard cars screeching,” Schoonmaker says. She thought, “Oh my gosh, there’s a bear in the Renton Highlands.”
Schoonmaker lives at Northeast 16th Street and Aberdeen Avenue Northeast.
From Schoonmaker’s house, police say the bear ran down Aberdeen. Palmer says she heard a Kennydale Elementary boy say he then spotted the bear at the Safeway about half a mile away. The bear then wound up high in the Northeast 16th Street cedar tree.
Fish and Wildlife officer Richards climbed a Renton fire truck ladder about 80 feet up the tree and shot two tranquilizer darts into the bear. He then roped one of the bear’s legs, which wasn’t easy.
“I had a hard time putting a rope on a bear that kind of wants to bite you,” he says.
The darts made the bear woozy, and he tipped over backward onto a tarp net below the tree.
It was gravity that brought the bear down, jokes Jeff Vollandt, a Renton firefighter with the city’s technical rescue team.
But even gravity wasn’t enough to finish the bear. Richards, the wildlife officer, had to inject tranquilizers into the bear twice more after his fall from the tree.
“It took quite a bit,” Richards says. “Even when he came down from the tree he was still going.”
Several police and fire officers then rolled the bear in the tarp and loaded him into an animal control truck. It took six men to lift the bear, Palmer says. The job wasn’t finished until about 9:30 a.m.
Palmer was just one of the spectators at the tree, which stands in the yard of a Kennydale home.
“The homeowners were standing out there with their mouths hanging open,” Palmer says.
Many of the firefighters and police officers weren’t any different, Palmer adds.
“I just got a kick out of the officers,” she says. “All the public safety officials were just so stunned. They’re human, too.”
Palmer snapped photos of the bear from about five feet away. That was the closest she’s been to a bear.
Renton firefighter Jeff Vollandt hasn’t seen many bears up close either. He saw a bear once, in the late 1980s, when growing up in Newcastle, but never like this.
“This is one of those things you only see once in a career,” he says. “You don’t see a bear in areas like this, you just don’t. It’s kind of out of the ordinary. It’s nice to do something different.”
Fish and Wildlife officer Richards has seen more than one bear in his career. But not in neighborhoods like Kennydale. Controlling the Kennydale bear was especially tricky.
“It was an ordeal,” Richards says. “It was something I don’t normally do with ladder trucks and the whole thing.”
Richards says the bear is about four or five years old, and probably came from May Valley. He is one of the first to come out of hibernation.
The bear is now secured in a bear trap – basically a big pipe – in the yard of Richards’ Enumclaw home. He plans to have the bear checked for injuries at PAWS and then take him back to the wild. But not until the weather warms, melting the snow in the mountains and giving the bear access to food.
“I’d take him quite a ways away, a long, long ways, or he would probably come back,” Richards says. “The trouble is a long, long ways away, all there is is snow. There’s not the right conditions to putting the bear out now.”
Emily Garland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (425) 255-3484, ext. 5052.