New Jersey Co-op Lineworkers Help Bear Cub Stranded in Tree

A bear cub climbed up a tree in New Jersey but couldn’t get back down, necessitating assistance from Sussex Rural Electric Cooperative. (Photo Courtesy: Sussex REC)

Sometimes, electric cooperative service to members extends to the four-legged kind.

A trio of lineworkers from Sussex Rural Electric Cooperative pitched in when a bear cub was stranded for about 20 hours in a tree in Vernon, New Jersey, a few miles east of the co-op’s Sussex headquarters.

Anthony “T.J.” Salokas of Sussex REC holds the bear cub after lineworkers used a bucket truck to bring down the animal. (Photo Courtesy: Sussex REC)

Chief Lineman Fred Hosking, First Class Lineman Travis Monahan and First Class Lineman Anthony “T.J.” Salokas were nearing their lunch break on April 9 when Monahan received a call from a friend with the New Jersey Fish & Wildlife’s bear project. The friend asked if Eric Trail in Vernon was in Sussex REC’s territory.

Inquisitively, Monahan responded, “Why are you asking me this question?” The answer: Wildlife officials required a bucket truck to extricate a 3-month-old bear cub stuck in a tree.

A sow with two cubs had been passing through a yard between two houses when a noise—possibly a nail gun from nearby construction, Salokas said—startled one of the cubs, sending it up a tree for refuge. The sow and other cub soon left the scene.

The fact that a bear was roaming through a sizable development in the Garden State was not surprising. “In our area, we see bears more than we see deer sometimes,” Monahan said.

The fact that the cub had been in the tree for so long was another matter. Wildlife division protocol recommends a waiting period to determine whether the mother will return. In this instance, a wait of 20 hours was long enough for the homeowner to seek human assistance.

The lineworkers were only about 10 minutes away, and wildlife officials and the homeowner greeted them upon arrival. They backed the truck in the driveway and helped set up the retrieval, including a net that Monahan, Hosking and others held around the tree in case the cub lost its balance.

From left, First Class Lineman Anthony “T.J.” Salokas, Chief Lineman Fred Hosking and First Class Lineman Travis Monahan responded to a bear cub stuck in a tree. (Photo Courtesy: Sussex REC)

“I went up and made sure I was somewhat calm,” Salokas said. “I grabbed him by the scruff, just as a sow would, put him in the bucket, brought him down and put him in a travel crate.” Salokas estimated the cub weighed 15 pounds and offered little resistance. “He was calm for the most part, a few little squeals. The cub was probably tired and hungry at that point.”

The cub went to a known den in Stillwater, about 40 minutes west of Vernon, where it was apparently accepted into a new family without incident.

It is not the first time Sussex REC crews have reached out in outdoors stewardship. Claudia Raffay, director of marketing and member services, said crews have helped rescue baby owls and freed a snapping turtle from a substation and red-tailed hawk caught in a crossarm. “Wildlife is a big part of our area,” she said.

Chris Reese, president and CEO of Sussex REC, said member response to social media posts about the incident has been remarkable.

“To be able to participate in something like this is very rewarding. I know our guys appreciated the opportunity to help,” he said. “When you’ve got people saying good things about the co-op and its employees, that’s a proud parent moment for me.”

Steven Johnson is a contributing writer for NRECA.