3 Bears in Katmai Shot and Left to Rot

INVESTIGATION: Even if it's self-defense,
carcasses need to be gutted, skinned

Doug O'Harra / Anchorage Daily News / August 3, 2004

Three brown bears were found shot and left dead on the tundra last week along a popular bear-viewing stream near the northern border of Katmai National Park and Preserve, prompting a criminal investigation by National Park Service rangers with help from Alaska State Troopers.

The animals, including an adult female that had been actively nursing, appeared to have been killed illegally near Funnel Creek about 12 miles south of Iliamna Lake, according to rangers working the case.

The animals had not been gutted or skinned, a requirement for anyone shooting in self-defense, said state and federal officials familiar with the case. The area, about 120 miles west of Homer, is currently closed to state sport or federal subsistence hunting of bears.

A Homer-based air taxi operator discovered the carcasses last week and reported them to rangers on Wednesday evening. Katmai wilderness district ranger Missy Epping flew from King Salmon and found a kill site in pouring rain along the creek about three-quarters of a mile downstream from Mirror Lake.

One bear was the roughly 500-pound female. An estimated 300-pound bear, perhaps 2 to 3 years old, lay about 100 yards farther downstream and was slightly less decomposed. It wasn't clear to Epping whether the younger bear was the female's cub.

The sight of the two wasted carcasses was infuriating, Epping said. "I can't say my initial reaction, because it wasn't very professional."

Epping and Katmai chief ranger Dona Taylor would not discuss whether any parts of the bear had been removed, nor the caliber or type of weapon used to kill them, saying they didn't want to jeopardize their investigation by releasing too many details.

" The bottom line: We want this case, and we want to make it stick," Epping said.

A team of rangers found the carcass of a third bear about half a mile farther downstream Saturday, Epping said. It also had been killed and left largely intact on the ground but wasn't as decomposed as the first two.

Mirror Lake and Funnel Creek have become a popular destination for bear viewing and fishing in the northern reaches of the 4 million-acre park and preserve.

More than 400 brown bears are thought to live in the general area south of Iliamna Lake, said area management biologist Lem Butler, with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in King Salmon. Five bears were taken in that area during a state sport hunt open last spring.

" Brown bears have been on the increase in this year, so the population is healthy at this point," he said.

But the bears shot along Funnel Creek could be among those that sometimes forage for salmon at the McNeil River falls, across the mountains to the east, Butler said. He planned to visit the area with Epping and a trooper this week.

" We're asking for people to tell us if they saw anything suspicious," Taylor said. "We're asking for help."

In a press release, the Park Service urged people with information to call Alaska Fish and Wildlife Safeguard at 1-800-478-3377 or Katmai National Park and Preserve at 1-907-246-2127.

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

(Back to Current Events 0804)

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