5 black bears at Wild and Free go back into the wild

Five black bears from Wild and Free in Garrison were released back into the wild this week.

Black bears from Wild and Free relocated after testing.
Andy Tri, left, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources bear project lead, Ashley King, Wild and Free administrative assistant and volunteer coordinator, and Denny King work on a black bear Thursday, April 20, 2023, at Wild and Free in Garrison.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

GARRISON — It was the bears who were caught in bed sleeping Thursday, April 20, at Wild and Free when the Minnesota DNR came knocking on their door.

The five black bears spent a year at Wild and Free in Garrison and were ready to be released back into the wild, said Ashley King, Wild and Free administrative assistant and volunteer coordinator. The bears were brought to Wild and Free after being orphaned.

“They've been awake for about two and a half weeks now,” said King. “Usually as soon as we see them show any sign of activity in the late winter, early spring, we let the DNR know and they come down.”

The DNR regularly examines and monitors bears brought to Wild and Free. This year, they were running a few weeks behind their usual schedule because of the weather, King added.

One of the volunteers helping to move the bears was Denny King, Ashley King’s father, who said he always knew his daughter would be working with animals.


“She loves them all,” Denny King said as he talked about how he watched his daughter successfully give mouth-to-snout resuscitation to a mouse who had aspirated on his food.

“You do whatever you can to save a life,” Ashley King said.

Wild and Free was started in Anoka County in 1985 and moved behind the Garrison Animal Hospital in 1990 before being able to purchase land in Garrison in 2004, said Deb Eskadahl, founder of Wild and Free.

Working on monitoring the reproductive cycles of black bears in Minnesota was Andy Tri, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources bear project lead. Tri said the DNR noticed bears around central Minnesota are taking up to a whole year longer before they have their first litter of cubs.

After the bears were anesthetized, Ashley King and Tri began collecting data on the bears. Working with a group of volunteers, the three males were weighed and sampled before being tagged.

The two females received a more thorough treatment, with more measurements to better track and understand the delay in the reproduction cycle in the area. The females were fitted with a GPS telemetry collar to track their movements throughout the year.

When a bear is fitted with a collar, the DNR visits them once a year during hibernation to adjust the collars and collect further data, Tri said. For this study, after they have their first litter, their collars are removed.

Headline News from the Brainerd Dispatch


TIM SPEIER, staff writer, can be reached on Twitter @timmy2thyme , call 218-855-5859 or email .

Tim Speier joined the Brainerd Dispatch in October 2021, covering Public Safety.
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