In 2008, forester Adam Deem was driving through burned brush, weeks after a forest fire, when he saw a black bear cub teetering in the road. He noticed that the cub’s fur was singed and its paws badly burned, and he followed it and watched it painfully climb a tree. Deem patiently waited for the bear’s mother to return, and when she didn’t, he scooped the baby out of the tree and drove him to the forestry department’s command center where he was given an IV and treated for second- and third-degree paw burns and a singed eye.
The rangers dubbed the cub Li’l Smokey, and as the bear recovered, he began snuggling Deem’s neck and licking him. The bear was taken to Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, one of the state’s few animal centers where cubs can be rehabilitated and taught survival skills so they can be returned to the wild. In February 2009, the bear was tranquilized, tagged and tucked into a cozy den at an undisclosed location in the California wilds. Deem was so touched by the baby bear that he penned a children’s book about him called “Saving Li’l Smokey.”