An Oregon man who discovered a bear cub in distress on a hiking trail Monday night will receive a warning -- not a criminal citation -- after he took the animal to a wildlife center, Oregon State Police announced Wednesday.
It is illegal in Oregon to capture or keep wildlife in captivity. If convicted, a perpetrator could face a maximum of one year in jail and a $6,250 fine, said Michelle Dennehy, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife public information coordinator.
Of the decision to issue only a warning, Sgt. James Halsey said, "Oregon State Police contacted the male subject who picked up the bear cub. Due to the totality of circumstances, to include that the adult male subject thought he was helping the bear cub without knowledge that the mother bear may have been nearby, a criminal citation was not issued to the male subject."
The incident, though, prompted state animal officials to remind the public to leave wildlife alone in such situations.
On Monday evening, Salem resident Corey Hancock was hiking the Santiam River Trail outside the city when he came across the 3-month-old cub about 2 miles down the trail, he told ABC News on Wednesday.
Hancock, who said he has been hiking the trail for more than 20 years, described the bear as "motionless" when he found it.
"I thought he was dead," he said. "He did kind of twitch a couple times, so I knew he was dying or going through the motions of death when I found him."
Hancock said he moved back about 50 yards, in case the bear's mother turned up, and watched the cub. When the it didn't move for about 10 minutes, Hancock said, he decided to take out his flannel and "wrap [the bear] up and make a run for it."
Hancock said he then raced back to his car and drove toward Salem. When he got back in cellphone service range, he posted a photo to Facebook asking for help.
"If I hadn't been out on the trails in the rain today, this little boy would be dead," Hancock captioned the photo. "I'm so completely thankful for today."
Hancock then took the cub, which he affectionately named Elkhorn because he found it on Elkhorn Road, to the Turtle Ridge Wildlife Center in Oregon, on the recommendation of someone on social media, he said. The center described the cub as "malnourished" and "lethargic" when it came in.
Elkhorn's condition significantly improved over 12 hours, the center said, and the cub has since been transferred to a wildlife veterinarian with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for a full health exam.
The center recommends calling wildlife officials if people encounter an animal that they believe may need help, but it thanked Hancock for his efforts in saving the cub.
"This was an uncommon situation, and we appreciate Corey for trusting us with the distressed cub's care," the center wrote on Facebook. "We are also grateful to our amazing community of supporters whose generosity ensures Turtle Ridge Wildlife Center is here to help in emergency situations such as this."
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife advises people to always leave wildlife in the wild, particularly young animals.
ODFW veterinarian Colin Gillin told ABC News that in nearly all cases, taking an animal out of the wild is not good for the animal, adding that there is no way to know "why this animal was on the side of the trail" or whether the mother simply left the cub for a while to forage for food.
After evaluating the cub, the department said it has no plans to euthanize it. Elkhorn will likely go to a zoo or a rehabilitation center to be released back into the wild. Chances of reuniting him with his mother at this point are "very slim," Gillin said.
At the center, the cub will not learn basic survival skills from its mother, such as how to stay away from danger and how to forage, he said, adding the bear will be at a "disadvantage" when it is released.
When you "take an animal in, none of those scenarios are better than it being with its mother," Gillin said, adding that with wildlife such as bears, mountain lions and deer, "the parent animal is usually nearby."
He said that the best option for Hancock in this case would have been to contact the ODFW or Oregon State Police.
Hancock said he "gets" the law and although he was not aware of it at the time, he may not have abided by it if he had been. He said police contacted him and reminded him of the law.
"I can't say for sure what I would do if I did know the law," said Hancock, a father of three. "I have kids. That was a little life there that was about to be lost."
Gillin doesn't blame Hancock for picking up the cub, saying, "He did what he thought he needed to do."
A similar issue was raised last year when a baby bison was euthanized after visitors at Yellowstone National Park placed it in the back of their vehicle because it looked cold. After the calf was taken to a park facility, park rangers spent more than two days trying to get it to return to its herd, but it was repeatedly rejected and ultimately had to be put down.