Grizzly with cubs mauls man on trail in Eagle River Valley

Anchorage Daily NewsJuly 22, 2012 

EAGLE RIVER -- On a private trail above Eagle River Road, high up in the brush where bears are common, a man hiking with his beagle was mauled by a grizzly Sunday afternoon, authorities said.

The man suffered cuts to his head, back and leg, said police Sgt. Cameron Hokenson. Medics rushed him to the hospital but authorities said the injuries aren't life threatening. Police Lt. Dave Parker identified the hiker as Bob Eder, 50, who lives near where the attack occurred.

The sow was with three older cubs, said Jessy Coltrane, area biologist for the state Department of Fish and Game, who toted a shotgun as she checked out the scene with police.

The attack appears to have happened when the hiker startled the brown bears in the tall brush, she said. They ran off.

"The vegetation on each side is at least 6 feet tall, impenetrable -- you can't see through it," Coltrane said. She was able to talk with the hiker briefly before he was taken to the hospital.

"The one thing I asked him was how close was the bear when you saw it. He said 'oh, 5 feet.' She was right there in the bushes essentially, with these cubs," the biologist said. "It was incredibly unfortunate but a classic defensive attack by a sow with cubs, surprised at very close range."

In May, a man was attacked by a grizzly not far from Sunday's attack. That bear was defending a moose kill, Coltrane said. She went with that victim a couple of weeks later to look for his glasses and they came across an old moose carcass, she said.

"This is really great brown bear country and black bear country," Coltrane said. "It's really great habitat."

On Sunday, Eder said he saw four bears.

"Which means it's a sow with three cubs," Coltrane said. "They are probably 2-year-olds or 3-year-olds."

The area of Sunday's attack is about two miles from the Eagle River Nature Center up a series of switch-backing dirt roads, ending on a private road. It's outside of Chugach State Park and there are no public hiking trails in the area. But people still cross the land and walk along utility easements despite warnings that it's private and full of wildlife, said 20-year-resident Kevin Stevens.

"We have lots of bears up here and we have a lot of people trespassing up here that don't have bear spray with them," Stevens said. Or guns. "I don't even go out mowing my lawn without my gun," he said.

Some are lured to the area to party. Others enjoy spectacular views. Some head toward a spot called Ram Valley, Stevens said.

Three of his four dogs are trained to protect against bears, and they are needed up there, he said. He lives in a tent-like structure and has found rips in the material where bears have tried to get in. He said he's never had to shoot a bear, and hopes he never has to.

Stevens saw the hiker and his dog passing by earlier on Sunday and warned about bears. The man said he lived just below so Stevens didn't insist he get off the property. "I didn't want to be a jerk," Stevens said. The man and dog walked up a narrow trail surrounded by brush.

At 2:44 p.m., the hiker called 911 to report he'd been attacked by a bear. He was able to walk about one-half mile down the mountain to get closer to the road but couldn't go any further, police said. The first patrol officer got to the area before 3 p.m. but it took a bit longer to find the hiker, who was able to direct police in part by the loudness of their patrol car sirens.

The hiker was about 200 yards up a private driveway near a vacation cabin when police and medics got to him. Police saw bear scat along the driveway.

"He was just exhausted. He couldn't go any further," said patrol officer Mark Fortunato. "He was really calm considering he just got attacked by a bear."

His worst injury appeared to be a long gash along one leg. While waiting for aid, he fashioned a tourniquet from his shirt to stop the bleeding, police said.

The hiker wasn't carrying a gun and didn't appear to be equipped with bear spray, Coltrane said. He probably wouldn't have had time to use it anyway, she said.

He said he had never been hiking up there before and realized after the fact he shouldn't have gone alone, Fortunato said. His dog, Lewis, wasn't hurt, police said. Patrol officers put the dog in the back of a cruiser to take to one of Eder's friends.

Coltrane, wearing a pinkish baseball cap that said "got bears?" on the front and a reference to McNeil River on the back, said there's no plan to pursue the sow.

The Department of Fish and Game posted big, brightly colored signs about the mauling that told people to stay away.

"With an attack like this, there's really no reason to poke the hornet's nest," she said. "You've got an agitated sow with three cubs." The closest neighbor, Stevens, already knows what happened and it's not an area where other people are supposed to be out walking, she said.

Besides, she said, an agitated bear likely will move on anyway.


Reach Lisa Demer at ldemer@adn.com or 257-4390.

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