Treadwell's Killer Had to be Killed

COMPASS: Points of view from the community

Stephen Stringham / Opinion / Anchorage Daily News / March 6, 2004

To fellow bear lovers:

We were all saddened by the deaths of Tim Treadwell and Amie Huguenard. Just as sad were the deaths of two grizzlies -- and the resulting criticism of government personnel who shot the bears while risking their own lives to try rescuing our friends and ultimately to recover their bodies. In fact, we owe deep thanks to our National Park Service, Alaska State Troopers and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Had either Tim or Amie been alive when help arrived, survival would have depended on quick rescue. There was no time to shoo bears away, and they wouldn't leave voluntarily. Grizzlies defending carcasses can be incredibly tenacious and aggressive.

Tim and I were once chilled to watch another boar guarding the carcass of a tiny cub. That bear savored every bite, making no more than 30 pounds of meat last over 48 hours, while driving off several rivals that arrived to share in the bounty.

The Kaflia Bay bears were doing the same with the bodies of Tim and Amie. Shooting them was the only feasible way for the rescuers to protect themselves and to eliminate a bear that might later kill someone else.

Would Tim really have disagreed with shooting those bears? Not if that was essential for his survival or Amie's. Sure, Tim -- like many of us -- had often asked that no bear be killed for mauling him in self-defense. But willingness to spare bears that react defensively doesn't carry over to sparing the rare bear that is predatory or sadistic toward people. Just as there are psychotic humans, there are a very few "psychotic" bears. We don't know whether the bear that killed Tim and Amie would have killed someone else. But why take the chance?

Next summer, when I return to Kaflia Bay, I'll spend every second thanking God and the Park Service, the troopers and Fish and Game that the killer is apparently dead. I'll be thankful for my own safety, that of other people, and that of the remaining bears at Kaflia whose lives this may have saved. Because the killer is apparently dead, people will feel safer and thus less trigger-happy toward other bears. And, because there is a slight chance the real killer survives, people may be a bit more cautious and respectful.

Bears are as diverse as we are. Some bears we can love, or at least like. Some like us in return -- as Tim was so fond of relating. But a very few bears are as lovable and voracious as crocodiles. Viewing bears as living teddies just demeans them. Love bears as bears, not as storybook creatures. Love them, and respect them -- as Tim did.

If you really want to honor our friend, learn from both his wisdom and his mistakes.

The following verse, from my book "Beauty Within the Beast: Kinship With Bears in the Alaska Wilderness," was read at Tim and Amie's memorial service:


In part because bears can be so dangerous, they force you to pay attention.

The awe of being in their presence

strips away the chaos of thoughts and distractions that normally dominate your consciousness.

They focus your attention on the moment.

They flood your blood with adrenaline and endorphins.

They introduce you to terror, awe, amazement and ecstasy.

They connect you to the deepest pulses of life.

This is their gift.
The power to take your life, or to renew it; to re-create who you are, if only for a moment, and perhaps for a lifetime.

Stephen Stringham has studied bear behavior for decades. He teaches bears and bear safety currently at Kenai Peninsula College and in April at Mat-Su College (you can still sign up). His second book, "Alaska's Most Dangerous Game: Living With Bears, Moose and Other Hazardous Wildlife," will be available this summer.

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