Brown Bear Mauls Guide



ANCHOR POINT: Oil company's bear guard listed in good condition

Doug O'Hara / Anchorage Daily News / March 17, 2004

A Soldotna big game guide hired to protect seismic workers from brown bears was mauled Tuesday morning as he approached a den housing a sow and two cubs in the hills northeast of Anchor Point on the Kenai Peninsula.

Chuck Brady had been investigating the scene after one member of a four-person crew laying seismic cables reported seeing "something" move in the woods off a steep trail, said Mark Chihuly, who operates a bear monitoring team working with the crew.

"If there hadn't been a bear guard, somebody would have died today," Chihuly said. "They would have walked within 15 feet of the bear den."

Such guards have accompanied oil exploration crews ever since a fatal mauling in 1998. A seismic worker that year surprised a brown bear near Sterling and was killed almost instantly when the growling animal bolted from its den and bit down on his head.

In this instance, Brady had ordered the crew from Veritas DGC Inc. to retreat to a safe location while he walked down the hill to check. When he realized there was a bear den just off the seismic trail, Brady radioed the crew to move further away.

The sow attacked without warning, Chihuly said.

"She came out on a full charge, and he was able to get off a shot and mortally wound the bear, and then the bear attacked him and bit his legs and back," he said. "Basically what he saw was a flash of fur, and then she was on him."

After the bear ran away, Brady was able to walk out to a helicopter, and was taken by ambulance to Central Peninsula General Hospital in Soldotna, where he was listed in good condition Tuesday afternoon. Brady declined to talk to a reporter about the attack.

"It was my understanding that there was a claw puncture wound to the back and some more extensive damage to the right calf and hamstring," said Bruce Bartley, spokesman for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The sow and two cubs fled the area in different directions. The sow was later tracked by a bloody trail for 400 to 500 yards by Chihuly and guard Ted Spraker, a retired state biologist.

The animal was walking on three legs, but was clearly bleeding to death. They dispatched the dying bear with a shot.

"I was surprised that it was still alive after seeing all that blood," Chihuly said.

State area biologist Jeff Selinger investigated the scene later in the day and found that the bear had remained nearby for a while after the attack.

"It looks to me like the bear ran back to the den, ran back out, then it circled (and) made a loop but didn't come to (Brady) again," Selinger said. "It came back within 50 to 75 meters of the den and then ran off again."

The cubs ran too but never picked up the sow's trail, Selinger said. The yearling animals could possibly survive if they can find food, he said, but he wanted to examine them and put tags in their ears so they could be monitored.

Veritas crews have been conducting seismic exploration for Unocal to check out natural gas deposits in the Ninilchik Dome area of the lower peninsula, said project manager Henry Biggart. The workers lay miles of cables and listening phones across the forest floor. The network records vibrations from detonations as a way to find out about geologic formations underground.

The crew plans to return to the area today but will pull back if there is any sign of the cubs, Biggart and Chihuly said.

Brown bears are listed as a population of special concern on the Kenai. The deaths of eight sows in any year from human causes will, under regulations, shut down fall brown bear hunting. This death was the first of the season, Selinger said.

Chihuly said his goal was to keep seismic crews and bears separate, but Brady had no choice in this instance but to shoot the bear.

"Chuck's going to be fine -- he's just got a story to tell," he said.


Daily News reporter Doug O'Harra can be reached at do'harra@adn.com



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