Fall 2009


Alum Sticks Neck Out to Save Li’l Smokey

Firefighter Adam Deem (‘99) rescued Li’l Smokey after spotting the bear cub in a scorched tree. Deem imitated the cub’s distressed cries in an attempt to reunite the cub with his mother.

Environmental review and managing timber harvests might be Adam Deem’s main job duties at the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection, but when much of the state’s wildlands are engulfed in fire, the HSU alum (‘99) hops to action. Last year, during California’s worst fire season on record, Deem received national media coverage after reports surfaced of his heart-warming rescue of a badly injured bear cub.

In July of 2008, Deem was driving through burned hillsides in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest west of Redding, Calif. He was reviewing the fire suppression efforts, looking for any environmental problems that may have resulted, when he spotted what appeared to be a stranded bear cub. “I thought it would be a good photo op,” he says, so he snapped a few pictures from the safety of his pickup truck, out of reach from any nearby mother bears.

The cub was headed into a tree when Deem realized it had been badly burned. “His paws were burned right down to the raw flesh,” he says. “I got on the phone to get a game warden out, and that’s when he decided to escape.”

Not wanting the cub to get away, where he wouldn’t last long in the wild, Deem imitated the cub’s distressed cries in an attempt to lure both the cub and the cub’s mother. When mama bear failed to arrive, Deem grabbed the cub and loaded him in his truck. “He fought me the whole way,” Deem says. “I didn’t really want to take it to this level, but it was obvious he wouldn’t survive without some intervention.”

Since his rescue, Li’l Smokey recovered at the Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care rescue and rehabilitation center in South Lake Tahoe before being released back into the wild last winter. Thanks in part to Deem’s heroic efforts in saving Li’l Smokey, he was awarded Firefighter of the Year by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Deem has been fighting fires for years. As a youth, he volunteered with Samoa, Calif.’s fire department. Through HSU’s Forestry Department, Deem saw a way he could be involved with forestry issues and earn a degree. He and his wife are currently working on a children’s book, Saving Li’l Smokey, which is due out in the next few months.

For updates on Li'l Smokey and information on the forthcoming book, visit the Li'l Smokey site