Alaska News

Eagle River bear-mauling survivor surprised to be alive

Howard Meyer saw it and his heart sank.

It was a brown bear, down on all fours in the woods. It looked like it could stand 7 or 8 feet tall, he said.

It was too close: about 30 yards away, the distance between bases in a baseball diamond.

Then, he said, the bear huffed and charged at him.

His thoughts?

"Unprintable," he said two days later from a hospital bed. "I thought that it was the end of my life."

It was around 6 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, on a raw spring day in the high reaches of the Eagle River Valley.


Meyer, a 57-year-old attorney, was walking around his 66-acre property on Mariah Drive, which borders the wilderness of the Chugach State Park.

He said he had gone out at around 4 p.m. in moccasins, jeans, a flannel shirt and a nylon jacket, not hoping for a hike in particular but looking for marks that denoted his property lines. It was a good time of year for such an expedition, Meyer said, because the leaves were not yet out, making it easier to see. He was maybe a half-mile away from his house.

Meyer said he was aware of the bears and moose that frequent the land, so he broke pieces of dead wood and hit trees with a stick to make noise.

He was traversing the side of a slope -- one foot down, one foot up -- when he spotted the brown bear.

Meyer said he shouted swear words and turned away to run, even though he knew that experts advise holding your ground. The sight of the giant bear coming at him simply propelled him away, he said.

But he tripped in a tangle of roots and brush.

Suddenly the weight of the grizzly was on top of him, the bear clawing at his back through his flannel shirt and nylon jacket.

He said death seemed certain.

"I just curled in and said, 'This is the end,' " he said.

As Meyer was accepting that his life was going to end in this particular brushy thicket on this Saturday evening in early May, the bear abruptly relented and ran off.

He believes the attack lasted only seconds.

With the bear out of sight, Meyer said he tried not to panic.

He lost a shoe in the attack, plus his glasses. He said he didn't know exactly where he was anymore. But he still had his cell phone.

The 911 operator tried to keep him calm. He knew he was bleeding but decided not to survey his wounds.

"I didn't want to freak out," he said.

The operator told him to stay where he was at, he said. That was not advice that Meyer was prepared to take: He deeply wanted to get off of that hillside.

Police and paramedics met him near his house.


At the hospital he learned that he had puncture wounds in his back from the bear's claws, along with some scalp injuries. He also has scrapes from rolling around in the brush. He said he was told he didn't need a rabies shot.

The mauling -- the first reported this year in the Anchorage area -- is a classic example of a defensive attack by a brown bear, said Alaska Department of Fish and Game area wildlife biologist Jessy Coltrane.

The bear was likely startled, she said. When black bears are startled they usually run away. When brown bears are startled, they sometimes charge.

Standing your ground is the best way to respond to a charging brown bear, though some people find they just can't do it, Coltrane said. Most charges stop short or end with a single swat.

"Once that bear knocks you down and knocks you around typically the bear walks away," she said. "Just like what happened with Mr. Meyer."

Meyer and Coltrane gave a different account of the circumstances of the mauling than a police spokesman initially did Sunday.

Meyer and Coltrane said the attack happened in a brushy section of Meyer's private property rather than on a hiking trail.

Biologists have no reason to believe this bear will cause more problems, Coltrane said.


"This was a surprise encounter in the woods in the wilderness in thick brush," she said.

It is a reminder that bears are now awake, she said. There have been several reports of black bears in residential areas of Anchorage in recent days. Most of those sightings are caused by unsecured garbage, chickens or other bear attractants, Coltrane said.

Two days after the attack, Meyer was fielding phone calls from business associates and his daughter in his room at Providence Alaska Medical Center.

"I'm not going to make the meeting on Wednesday," he told one person who called his cell phone. "I was mauled by a bear."

Though groggy from painkillers, Meyer had begun to ruminate on his mauling.

In the 21 years the Harley-riding personal injury attorney has lived on Mariah Drive, Meyer said he has embraced the wild that surrounds his home.

"I'm the visitor," he said.

He has encountered bears before, hunting in Prince William Sound and on Kodiak Island.

He said he'll do things differently in the future, such as carrying pepper spray.

He thinks he may have crossed paths with the bear while it was feeding on something dead left over from winter.

That's possible, Coltrane said.

The bear encounter leaves Meyer considering other things, too.


He told the 911 operator that this was the end of his Alaska adventure, which began 25 years ago when he moved north from Minnesota.

"At that moment I was not real thrilled," he said.

The bear attack won't drive him out of Alaska, he said. But it does make him think about his own mortality. He's wondering why things turned out the way they did.

"It could have torn me to shreds," he said. "It didn't."

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at or 257-4344.


Anchorage Daily News

Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She focuses on in-depth stories about the intersection of public policy and Alaskans' lives. Before joining the ADN in 2012, she worked at daily newspapers up and down the West Coast and earned a master's degree from the University of Oregon.