Panel Wraps Bear Attack Review


TREADWELL: Board recommends a review of camping, other policies

Rachel D'Oro / The Associated Press / Anchorage Daily News / December 18, 2003


Timothy Treadwell of Malibu, Calif., was killed in a bear attack.

The Technical Board of Investigation has wrapped up its inquiry in the deaths of Malibu, Calif., bear activists Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard and plans to submit its final report to National Park Service officials within a week.

The four-page report also sums up likely contributing factors in the deaths of Treadwell, 46, a wildlife author who spent the past 13 summers tracking brown bears at the Alaska Peninsula park, and Huguenard, 37, who joined him in recent years. Treadwell was known and sometimes criticized for getting too chummy with the coastal grizzlies without any kind of protection, such as bear spray.

The partially eaten bodies of the couple were found in heavy bear-feeding grounds at the shore of Kaflia Lake on Oct. 6 when a pilot arrived to pick them up and saw a large brown bear standing over human remains. Responding rangers later shot and killed a thousand-pound bear when it charged at them through dense thickets of alder. State troopers and rangers also killed a smaller bear apparently stalking them.

"The location of the camp was obviously a contributing factor in the deaths of these people," said Katmai park superintendent Joe Fowler, who chaired the five-member board. "If they had been half a mile away, they might not have been killed."

Park Service officials said they could not discuss details in the report until it passes muster with agency attorneys. But they said it contains no surprises.

All the evidence -- including a six-minute audio recording of a frantic Treadwell being attacked -- pointed to a single scenario, that the campers were killed by a bear, contrary to early rumors that poachers might have been involved, said Larry Van Daele, a state wildlife biologist and the only non-Park Service member of the investigative panel. Van Daele performed necropsies on the two bears and found human remains in the stomach of the larger bear, a scrawny but healthy 28-year-old male that was probably looking to fatten up for winter.

"There was a poor berry crop this year, so bears did not develop quite as much fat, and they were in the last area of the season to find salmon, so they were less tolerant of people, even of each other," Van Daele said. "Now add an unconventional person with unconventional behavior toward bears, camped in the middle of a very dangerous situation with an older male bear that's even less tolerant. We'll never know if this is the bear that killed them, but in my heart I believe it was."

Board members "played devil's advocate" and considered other theories, including foul play and the possibility that the campers were harassing the animals or leaving food lying around. Van Daele said some open snack food was found untouched inside the couple's tent, which was knocked down but not torn up during the attack. The audio recording, found at the campsite, was the strongest piece of evidence that the deaths were not human-caused, Van Daele said.

"It was just an unfortunate situation," he said. "It's not the bear's fault and not necessarily the people's fault. It's real easy to fault the horrible bears or the dumb people, but that's not fair. The important thing is to learn from this."

The report recommends only a review of policies regulating camping, bear management and food storage at the 4.7-million acre park. Unrestricted camping is prohibited only within 11/2 miles of Brooks Camp, the most popular bear-watching site in the park, but nowhere else.

A review could result in other restricted areas, said Park Service spokesman John Quinley. But there's only so much that can be done in the way of widespread policy changes, particularly in response to the first known bear mauling deaths in the park's 85-year history.

"This case was such an aberration," Quinley said. "We don't want to jump into changing regulations."

If nothing else, Van Daele hopes the deaths of Treadwell and Huguenard will be a wake-up call for wildlife photographers and videographers.

"We see so many of these folks pushing the envelope to get close shots no one has ever gotten," Van Daele said. "I'd like to see these people get more responsible. They don't have to get in the animal's face."

A panel that examined the circumstances of the deadly October brown bear attack in Katmai National Park and Preserve is recommending a review of the park's camping and bear management policies, federal officials said Wednesday.

The Technical Board of Investigation has wrapped up its inquiry in the deaths of Malibu, Calif., bear activists Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard and plans to submit its final report to National Park Service officials within a week.

The four-page report also sums up likely contributing factors in the deaths of Treadwell, 46, a wildlife author who spent the past 13 summers tracking brown bears at the Alaska Peninsula park, and Hugue-nard, 37, who joined him in recent years. Treadwell was known and sometimes criticized for getting too chummy with brown bears -- as coastal grizzlies are called in Alaska -- without any kind of protection, such as bear spray.

The partially eaten bodies of the couple were found in heavy bear-feeding grounds at the shore of Kaflia Lake on Oct. 6 when a pilot arrived to pick them up and saw a large brown bear standing over human remains. Responding rangers later shot and killed a thousand-pound bear when it charged at them through dense thickets of alder. State troopers and rangers also killed a smaller bear apparently stalking them.

"The location of the camp was obviously a contributing factor in the deaths of these people," said Katmai park superintendent Joe Fowler, who chaired the five-member board. "If they had been half a mile away, they might not have been killed."

Park Service officials said they could not yet discuss details in the report until it passes the muster of agency attorneys. But they said it contains no surprises.

All the evidence -- including a six-minute audio recording of a frantic Treadwell being attacked -- pointed to a single scenario, that the campers were killed by a bear, contrary to early rumors that poachers might have been involved, said Larry Van Daele, a state wildlife biologist and the only non-Park Service member of the investigative panel. Van Daele performed necropsies on the two bears and found human remains in the stomach of the larger bear, a scrawny but healthy 28-year-old male that was probably looking to fatten up for winter.

"There was a poor berry crop this year, so bears did not develop quite as much fat, and they were in the last area of the season to find salmon, so they were less tolerant of people, even of each other," Van Daele said. "Now add an unconventional person with unconventional behavior toward bears, camped in the middle of a very dangerous situation with an older male bear that's even less tolerant. We'll never know if this is the bear that killed them, but in my heart I believe it was."

Board members "played devil's advocate" and considered other theories, including foul play and the possibility that the campers were harassing the animals or leaving food lying around. Van Daele said some open snack food was found untouched inside the couple's tent, which was knocked down but not torn up during the attack. The audio recording, found at the campsite, was the strongest piece of evidence that the deaths were not human-caused, Van Daele said.

"It was just an unfortunate situation," he said. "It's not the bear's fault and not necessarily the people's fault. It's real easy to fault the horrible bears or the dumb people, but that's not fair. The important thing is to learn from this."

The report recommends only a review of policies regulating camping, bear management and food storage at the 4.7 million-acre park. Unrestricted camping is currently prohibited only within 1 ˆ miles of Brooks Camp, the most popular bear-watching site in the park, but nowhere else.

A review could result in other restricted areas, said Park Service spokesman John Quinley. But there's only so much that can be done in the way of widespread policy changes, particularly in response to the first known bear mauling deaths in the park's 85-year history.

"This case was such an aberration," Quinley said. "We don't want to jump into changing regulations."

If nothing else, Van Daele hopes the deaths of Treadwell and Huguenard will be a wake-up call for wildlife photographers and videographers.

"We see so many of these folks pushing the envelope to get close shots no one has ever gotten," Van Daele said. "I'd like to see these people get more responsible. They don't have to get in the animal's face."


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