Troopers kill bear that attacked Peninsula bird-watcher

Michelle Theriault Boots

A Kenai man used a tripod and a spotting scope to fend off what authorities are calling an unprovoked attack by a brown bear on the Kenai Peninsula this week.

Alaska State Troopers later shot and killed the bear, an adult female.

The man was bird-watching on the north beach of the Kasilof River with his wife and three of their young children Sunday afternoon when they first spotted the bear.

It was a quarter of a mile away, according to an account of events given to Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists. The family moved to put distance between themselves and the bear, said wildlife biologist Jeff Selinger. Because of the topography of the beach and dunes, they lost sight of the animal.

When they saw it again it was much closer, maybe 150 feet away.

Selinger declined to name the man. Troopers identified him as 48-year-old Toby Burke of Kenai.

Burke, who works at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, gathered his family behind him as the bear charged, Selinger said. Burke used the bird-watching equipment he was carrying to fend her off.

"He was able to jam the spotting scope into the bear's mouth while keeping his family behind him," Selinger said.

The bear ripped the scope off the tripod and swiped at Burke's forearm and rib cage, leaving him bruised but otherwise uninjured. No one else was hurt in the attack, troopers said.

Eventually, the bear broke off and moved away, but not before charging a few more times, Selinger said.

Burke got his family into their van and called 911.

Troopers arrived and were tracking the bear near the treeline separating the beach from a stand of alders when the sow popped out and ran at them. Two troopers shot and killed the bear, said AST spokeswoman Megan Peters.

Later, troopers and biologists heard reports of the bear attacking a truck on the other side of the river earlier in the day, as well as a telephone pole. There's no evidence the bear reported to have gone after the truck was the same one who encountered Burke and his family, Selinger said, but it's likely.

Burke did all the right things, he said: he got between the bear and his family, which included an infant. Nobody ran.

"The father and his family deserve to be commended for how they handled the situation," he said. "He did an outstanding job."

Selinger said he planned to search the beach for anything that might have attracted the bear, like a thawing moose carcass.

The bear, contrary to earlier reports from the Alaska State Troopers, didn't appear to be starving. "It seemed in decent condition for this time of year," Seligner said. "It still had a layer of fat on it."

It was likely an older bear, suggested by her worn-down teeth. She didn't appear to be a lactating sow, he said.

There's no clear explanation for the bear's erratic and aggressive behavior, Selinger said. Unprovoked attacks by brown bears are rare.

"It is very unusual for a bear to act this way," he said.

Samples of the carcass will be sent to the state veterinarian's office for testing.


Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at or 257-4344.