Too hot to bear

How hot was it? Hot enough that a big black bear found a small pool not far from Lithia Park just right to cool off in.

The burly bruin relaxed for about 20 minutes just a few feet from the home of Joel Axelrod and his wife, Judy Shih, on Winter Drive, above Ashland Creek at the south end of the park on July 10. The high temperature that day was 96 in Ashland, according to the National Weather Service.

The bear was close enough that Axelrod got a good whiff, he said, maybe 10-12 feet from his home. He retreated indoors and took photos of it from the safety of a breakfast nook in the house.

"Deer smell like a cross between sandlewood and horse," Axelrod said. "This bear smelled rank, like an oily wet mop and wet dog, not real pleasant, like an animal that had morning breath."

The bear completely submerged itself in the pool, part of the landscaping around the house, Axelrod said. After it pulled itself up out of the pool and ambled off, the bear didn't bother to shake itself off, Axelrod said, evidently figuring staying wet would keep him cooler longer.

The bear was large, weighing several hundred pounds, Axelrod estimated, and likely older, judging by the yellowed, worn teeth visible in the photos he took.

It's not unusual to see bears in his neck of the woods, right on the urban-wildland interface in the hills above Ashland, Axelrod said. He figures about a half-dozen bears frequent the neighborhood, occasionally tipping over trash cans.

Bear sightings are common in Ashland, said Steve Niemela, an assistant wildlife biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. A bear was seen near the Butler Bandshell restrooms in Lithia Park in February.

The west side of Ashland offers "great habitat, which generates wildlife," he said. "Bears are all about food," so people should "manage food smells," he added, noting that Recology Sanitary Service, in cooperation with the Ashland Wildlife Committee, offers "bear-proof" containers at cost to customers inside the Ashland urban growth boundary.

The purchase price for a "bear-proof" container is $180.72, according to the Recology website, payable at $7.53 per month for 24 months.

If you encounter a bear, Niemela said, "make sure to not put yourself between a sow and her cubs, don't play dead, don't stare in eyes."

"Back away slowly and 90 percent of the time the bear will want to get away," he continued. "Give the bear the space it needs to get out of the area. A scared bear runs up trees. Back off and give it the opportunity to leave."

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