Two baby black bear cubs, weighing only about 5 pounds apiece, were rescued from a Minnesota farm this week after their mother was killed by a combine harvesting corn.

With last fall’s harvest affected by wet weather, many Minnesota farmers left corn standing in the field and are beginning to harvest it now, while the ground is still frozen.

Trouble is, bears like to make their dens in cornfields, especially in the northwest part of the state where hills and forests are scarce.

That’s what happened outside Strandquist, a village of about 70 residents in Marshall County, some 30 miles northwest of Thief River Falls. Late last week, a farmer harvesting corn hit a female bear. The farmer thought she was OK, because she ran off after being struck.

But she later returned to her cornfield den, where she’d left two cubs, said Doug Franke, area wildlife manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in Thief River Falls.

A Marshall County sheriff’s deputy was called out to the farm Sunday to check on the mother. She couldn’t stand or move, so the deputy euthanized her and called conservation officers to take the cubs.

“It’s tragic,” Franke said. “But when you have standing corn in bear country, every once in a while you get a bear that will use the cornfield as a denning site.”

The farmer who hit the mother bear was not identified.

The cubs, a male and a female, were brought to Wild and Free, a rehabilitation center in Garrison, Minn. They’ll be cared for and released into the wild in about a year, Franke said.

The DNR is asking farmers to be alert to bear dens in their crops. If a bear is disturbed, leave the area; the bear will return later. Do not pick up any cubs.

Franke said the DNR is encouraging farmers to delay harvesting corn until after the first week of April if they can, although the agency recognizes that may not be possible.