Crime & Courts

3 men get fines, prison and park ban for wading into Alaska’s Brooks River while viewing famous bears

Three men charged with getting too close to the famed salmon-fishing bears at Southwest Alaska’s Brooks Falls were sentenced Friday to fines and brief prison terms.

The men left an authorized viewing platform and got close to brown bears in Katmai National Park and Preserve during an August 2018 trip, federal prosecutors say. One man was captured by a livestream camera taking selfies near the bears.

Katmai covers more than 4 million acres and includes the Brooks River, known for one of the world’s highest concentrations of salmon and brown bears.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Matthew M. Scoble during Friday’s hearing described the men’s actions as “drunken capering, and a slap in the face to those who were there” and referenced the potentially detrimental effect on park tourism if one of them had been injured or a bear was killed for hurting them, federal prosecutors said.

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The three defendants in the case are David J. Engelman, 56, from New Mexico, and King Salmon residents Robert J. Engelman II, 54, and Steven R. Thomas, 30. Their attorney could not immediately be reached for comment. They all entered guilty pleas to a misdemeanor count of entry to a closed area of Brooks Falls earlier this year.

The men left the platform while bears fished on the falls and below it in the river, according to the plea agreement signed in January. David Engelmen snapped several selfies below the falls.


The Engelmans each received a sentence of one week in prison, a $3,000 fine and a year of probation. Thomas was sentenced to 10 days in prison, a $3,000 fine and a year of probation. The $9,000 in fines are to be paid to the nonprofit Katmai Conservancy for use by the park to fund law enforcement and other purposes.

All three men are banned from entering any national park for a year.

The men “behaved carelessly and put themselves at great risk. Brown bears are fierce, territorial predators, especially when concentrated in order to feed on migrating salmon,” Katmai superintendent Mark Sturm said in a statement. “Things could have easily ended very badly.”

Zaz Hollander

Zaz Hollander is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su and is currently an ADN local news editor and reporter. She covers breaking news, the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at