Three bears were rescued from a sewer grate in Simsbury Wednesday afternoon after being stuck underground overnight.

The bears, a mother and two cubs, were stuck in the sewer system on Banks Road for hours before they were helped up by several officials Wednesday, according to Jason Hawley, wildlife biologist on the bear program of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Banks Road resident Scott Conrad said he initially found out about the bears when a neighbor told him around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. The bears were there until they were rescued around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

It took a log, a ladder and a special bear cub call from Hawley to lure them out of the drain, he said.

Hawley said the bears were initially reported to DEEP Tuesday evening, but they thought the mother would know how to get out of the system since she was able to get in. When reports came the bears were still there Wednesday and were now making crying and moaning noises, they went over and searched for the trio, he said.

Conrad described the noise as a desperate cry from the mother, an emotional and distressing sound.

Officials found bear tracks leading into where the system dumps out but did not see any going in. They spent a couple of hours searching the sewer system from above for signs of the bears. They returned after neighbors found the bears under the same storm drain again.

They removed the storm drain, blocked off the rest of the sewer system with boards, put a ladder down into the system and tried to get the bears to come up with Hawley’s bear call, which he said he’s learned from being around bears so much. Hawley described the noise as a “very specific little kind of raspy noise that cubs will make.”

“[Mothers] have such a strong maternal instinct that they’ll respond to it even though she had both of her cubs with her,” Hawley said.

The mother climbed up half the ladder initially before going back down, he said. Hawley had some people from Public Works bring a long log for them to climb up, so it would be a bit more natural for them.

The bears were missing for a brief time before a technician from DEEP climbed down into the sewer and found them with a flashlight. This is something technicians will sometimes do when DEEP is doing its winter den work, Hawley said.

“It seems like a dangerous thing but we’re able to kind of read their body language and kind of see where they’re at,” Hawley said.

He said black bears are not aggressive animals and generally want to be left alone.

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Libby Lord, a local photographer, watched the rescue and said it was something she’d never forget.

“After everyone was well back from her location, and waiting quietly, and watching… the momma’s head popped up!” Lord wrote in a social media post. “Then she climbed out, took a look around, and went back to encourage the cubs to come out too. First one climbed up and out, and moved by a nearby tree, so the momma went to get cub #2. Up it came, much to the relief of the momma bear, and all of the onlookers!”

“We kind of chased them away from the storm drain before they could go back down, then we were able to cover it up and it was a happy ending,” Hawley said.

The mother was tagged but none of the bears was injured in the process, he said.

Conrad called it “a great team effort” from DEEP, Simsbury Police, the State Environmental Conservation Police and the town.

Mike Mavredakis can be reached at mmavredakis@courant.com

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