Bear removed from tree off NJ Turnpike

Action News reporter Nora Muchanic took this picture of the bear after is was brought down from a tree off the New Jersey Turnpike in Mercer County. The bear had been tranquilized.

April 15, 2011 8:26:10 PM PDT
State environmental officials say a wayward black bear that was removed from a tree near a busy New Jersey Turnpike exit has been released unharmed back into the wild.

Wildlife officials removed a bear that was up a tree by the New Jersey Turnpike in Mercer County.

It all began when someone spotted the bear, a 296 pound male, running across a nearby cornfield.

The bear was then seen at the Exit 8 interchange in Highstown around 8:15 Friday morning before going up the tree.

"The bear came out of the woods over here across the grass and stood up by the guardrail. I thought he was going to go through the toll. I was wondering if he had EZ Pass," said truck driver John Kepfinger. A short time later, wildlife officials and firefighters were on the scene. They started spreading nets at the base of the tree then fired a tranquilizer dart at the bear.

It then climbed higher in the tree before stopping, apparently asleep.

Initially we tranquilized the bear to see if we could get it to fall asleep, fall out of the tree and catch it on the net. Unfortunately the bear got into a position where he wedged himself in," saaid Jeremy Watkins of the Cranbury Fire Department.

Firefighters were then lifted by a ladder truck up to the top of the tree to begin the effort to get it down.

They were seen cutting branches out of the way and checking to see if the bear was awake.

By 12:15, the firefighters and wildlife officials were next to the bear in the tree, checking it out. The even handcuffed the bear in case it woke up.

Then, around 12:30, the bear was pulled onto the platform of the ladder and brought down to the ground.

It was loaded into a specially-equipped pickup truck and driven away from the scene.

The bear has already been tagged by the NJ Fish and Wildlife Commission from previous encounters and will be released into the Assunpink Wildlife Preserve.

"He's a local bear. He's been caught in the area before. He's definitely a local boy. We'll take him and hopefull he'll stay out of trouble," aid Kim Tinnes of NJ Fish and Wildlife.

Officials say the bear was a "dispersing" male likely looking to find a breeding territory of his own.

DEP spokesman Lawrence Hajna said the bear wasn't injured and was released into an undisclosed wildlife area.