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Woman Who Died with 'Bear Guru' was Duped

Outdoors / Craig Medred / Anchorage Daily News / January 16, 2005

For 16 months since Amie Huguenard and Timothy Treadwell died in the jaws of a bear at Kaflia Bay on the Katmai Coast, I have been waking up at night with thoughts of this 37-year-old Midwestern woman I never knew.

I can't get free of the words in an e-mail from an old boyfriend, sent months after Huguenard's death.

"Amie had a kind of naivete about her that added a real sweetness to her entire persona,'' Stephen Bunch wrote. "At times it was easy to convince her of things that were not entirely true. We would let her in on these jokes and get a good laugh, especially from her.

"Sometimes I found this quality frustrating because I would watch her 'swallow the hook, line and sinker' in situations where it was obvious what was going on. But I always felt I could trust her because she bestowed the same trust in you unconditionally.''

The last person Amie Huguenard trusted was Treadwell, and it led to her death in the jaws of a bear.

Ever since, she has been billed as Treadwell's "partner" in the tragedy. Early reviews of "Grizzly Man,'' a Treadwell film set to air at the Sundance Film Festival later this month, describe her that way or as the "girlfriend'' following Treadwell on his quest to "leave the confinements of his humanness and bond with the bears.''

That's a novel idea -- and one that is so much bunk.

Treadwell wasn't bonding with anything. He was playing with live explosives, and Huguenard was a victim when one of the bombs went off.

Her death hit close to home. I love bears, but I also had occasion to shoot one off my foot years ago. I know what it is to be in the teeth of a bear, and it is not the way I'd wish for anyone to go. There is nothing glorious about it.

Ever since the bloody tragedy at Kaflia, some Treadwell supporters have suggested the attack was a bizarre twist of fate that saw Treadwell, who claimed to be at Kaflia protecting bears from poachers, killed and eaten by some "rogue" animal. The deaths were an unfortunate and horrible accident, they contend.

Only one problem. It was no accident.

Anyone who has any doubts can go back and read what Treadwell said through the years about the bears of Katmai and his relationship with them. He predicted again and again that a bear was going to kill him.

But don't take my word for it.

Writer David Wallace, who last interviewed Treadwell for The Malibu Times in June and became friends with the naturalist, received a letter dated July 11.

"He called me as he was leaving, and said, 'I'll see you sometime in October if I don't die up there,' '' Wallace said. "I, probably like everyone else, sort of wrote that off as self-dramatizing, as he was prone to do."

Treadwell spent his summers hanging out with grizzlies and photographing them. Supporters say he was reaching out to the animals, developing a new sort of caring relationship between men and bears.

One big, old boar put an end to all that new-age California talk by killing Treadwell. For months afterward, I devoted hundreds of hours to investigating what made Treadwell tick, and I must confess I found in him things easy to admire.

He was a first-rate photographer and an engaging entertainer. He had good intentions about the environment.

Above all else, he was a tough guy. Not tough in the fighting sense but in the wilderness sense. He survived on the Katmai coast for years because he had grit. He often lived cold, wet and hungry. He accepted it as part of the experience.

What he found in that experience we'll never know.

I'm confident it was more than the small bit of celebrity he gained. I know it was more than the money his nonprofit Grizzly People organization collected from bear lovers.

Other than that, all I know for sure is that Treadwell was half a bubble off.

A past association with drugs may be part of the reason. But the real answer may be buried deep in his childhood on New York's Long Island. Most of the people who knew the boy named Timothy Dexter find they don't know him very well when they start scratching their brains for memories.

Despite any "issues,'' as they would say in California, Treadwell intimately knew the environment he was flying into when he headed for Kaflia Bay.

Yet he took no precautions. He threw away his bear spray. He ditched the electric fence legitimate bear researchers studying in the area use to protect their camps. He approached bears instead of maintaining a safe distance. He camped next to bear trails in heavy cover.

When you take these risks repeatedly, it isn't an oversight.

Perhaps the inevitable disaster could be written off as the bad judgment of a thrill junkie if the dead man hadn't told so many people beforehand that he expected to be killed by a bear.

Treadwell told bear scientists he welcomed death by bear. He said it would be an honor to be killed, eaten and rendered bear scat. Had National Park Service rangers not killed the bear that ate him, he would have gotten his wish.

And if that had been all that happened, I wouldn't be writing this.

If that had been all that happened, I wouldn't be thinking about Amie Huguenard in the middle of the night. And I wouldn't find myself frustrated at the people who dismiss her death by saying she went along willingly with Treadwell.

Alaska State Troopers earlier this year reluctantly revealed that the last entries in her journal intimated she was afraid of the bears and wanted to be away from Kaflia.

Treadwell had a satellite phone. He could have recognized these legitimate fears and called for a plane to come get them. He didn't.

He kept playing his deadly little game until it killed them.

The Grizzly People organization, which took possession of the journals and videotapes of Treadwell and Huguenard, has no interest in trying to determine what sparked the bear attack. Grizzly People promoted Treadwell while he was alive, and now it will promote the myth of Treadwell.

Along with the film at Sundance, at least one more Treadwell movie and a couple of books are reported to be in the works.

But who will grieve for Amie Huguenard, the innocent victim in all this? Maybe that's why her ghost keeps haunting me.

Daily News Outdoor editor Craig Medred can be reached at cmedred@adn.com




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