San Diego man dies in Denali grizzly attack
Lone backpacker lingered to take photos of bear shortly before mauling.
By CASEY GROVE Anchorage Daily News
Published: August 25th, 2012 10:57 PM
Last Modified: August 26th, 2012 12:32 AM
A grizzly attacked and killed a lone backpacker in Denali National Park and Preserve on Friday after the man encountered the bear next to a river and lingered there snapping pictures, according to the National Park Service.
The death is the first fatal bear mauling in Alaska in seven years and the only one in the 6-million-acre park's recorded history, going back more than 90 years, the Park Service said.
"It's an extremely rare event, and it's not common that we even have injuries related to bears," said park spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin. "We don't see a lot, and we think some of that is due to our education."
But the man -- identified late Saturday as 49-year-old San Diego, Calif., resident Richard White -- apparently ignored key parts of that education, which the Park Service says he received prior to heading into the Denali wilderness, in part of the park where there are no trails. Photos on White's camera showed he stayed near the bear, instead of leaving the area, as required by his permit, park officials said.
Alaska Wildlife Troopers assisting park rangers shot a large male grizzly Saturday believed to have killed White and cached his body the day before, the Park Service said. The rangers had been unable to recover White's remains for more than 24 hours, but retrieved him late Saturday, a park spokeswoman said.
It was Friday afternoon, when three hikers on a day trip found White's backpack on a gravel bar along the Upper Toklat River, about three miles from a rest area of the seasonal road that runs through the park, the Park Service said. Looking closer, there was evidence of a violent struggle: blood and torn clothes.
The hikers immediately headed back to the rest area and called park rangers at 5:30 p.m. Friday, McLaughlin said. A helicopter launched at 8 p.m. and landed the rangers near the backpack about 30 minutes later.
It was next to a gravel bar, out in the open near the braided river's edges. Not far away, where the terrain became more rugged, was heavy brush and more secluded areas, McLaughlin said.
At least one bear ran into the brush as the helicopter hovered, said Pete Webster, Denali's head ranger. Once they were on the ground, the rangers spotted the body, which had been dragged into some bushes 100 to 150 yards from where the attack occurred. Webster said the remains were stashed in a "cache site," a spot where a bear will hide and eat food.
Night was falling and the presence of multiple bears in the area made the rangers wary of trying to recover White's body Friday night, according to the Park Service.
The rangers also found a digital camera with pictures taken just before the mauling, said Paul Anderson, the park's superintendent.
Photos on the camera and the images' timestamps showed that White was within 50 yards of the bear for at least eight minutes, without retreating. Permitted backcountry travelers in Denali are required to stay at least a quarter-mile from bears and leave the area if they happen upon one, Anderson said.
"The photos show the bear grazing and not acting aggressively," Anderson said.
Early Saturday, rangers, biologists and Alaska Wildlife Troopers flew in helicopters and a plane, first to warn others who might be in the area, then recover White's body and track down what the Park Service described as a "predatory grizzly."
They were fighting poor weather during the morning that worsened by afternoon, said Webster, the ranger chief. Two groups of hikers were flown out of the surrounding wilderness, and the mission turned back to recovering the body, he said.
Back at the "kill site" about 2:30 p.m. Saturday, troopers shot and killed a large male grizzly bear from a helicopter and spotted another bear that scurried away, Webster said. Both bears appeared to be defending the body as a food source, he said.
Shards of White's clothing and other material linking the bear that troopers shot to the deadly attack were found during an examination of the bear's stomach contents, said Park Service spokeswoman Kris Fister late Saturday. That, along with photographs of the same bear on White's camera, was evidence the bear shot by troopers was the bear that killed White, Fister said.
Wildlife biologists think there are about a dozen grizzlies that come and go in the greater Toklat River area where the backpacker was killed, the Park Service said.
According to the Park Service, White was registered to hike in the park and received a permit, mandatory bear training and a bear-resistant food container. It was unclear if he carried bear spray or a firearm, the park officials said.
The fatal mauling is the first in Alaska since 2005, when a grizzly killed an Anchorage couple in their sleeping bags inside a tent in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. That attack, on Rich and Kathy Huffman, was apparently unprovoked, wildlife officials said at the time, noting that the Huffmans had a firearm and had safely stored their food. A North Slope Borough police officer later shot the bear.
A little less than two years earlier, a bear or bears killed Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, in Katmai National Park.
Treadwell was known as a bear advocate who lived close to bears and was seen touching them in a 2005 documentary. Two bears were later killed. Including Friday's attack, brown bears and grizzly bears, a subspecies, have killed at least 15 people in Alaska in the past 40 years, according to compilations of news stories.
Eric, in the Whitehorse area they've relocated bears 100 km from their "home base", with mountains/valleys in between (from Tagish to the south end of Kusawa Lake). A couple of weeks later, the bears had returned to their Tagish home. The mama grizzly did the trek with her cub.
So they're questioning the value of relocating bears.
Apparently it is not easy to be the new bear in a neighbourhood of bears. As well, a new bear is not familiar with the location of food sources and water. So their instinct drives them to return to what they know.
Female cubs are permitted to share an established territory with their mother while male cubs are forced away to establish their own territory in a new area. So mother bears are usually in the area in which they were raised and their instinct would prompt them to return to what they know, even when driven by a human to a location that is 60 miles and mountain ranges and valleys away.
I realise that Sue but it just seems so unfair doesn't it.
I lived in BC as a child and we were in cat country, our family bloodhound took care of our safety back then; no one ever got hurt. It just gets me very upset to see our wild animals being squeezed out more and more.
There are enough hikers in that area of Denali that they likely DID have to kill the bear. It has learned that humans can be prey, and it has the advantage. There is too large a chance that it could actively hunt a human and create a situation a human couldn't escape from.
It is frustrating, though, that NONE of this is the bears fault. It is solely the fault of one human who did not obey the tried-and-true laws of nature, and of Denali.
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Hiker's camera offers clues to bear attack
By LISA DEMER Anchorage Daily News
Published: August 27th, 2012 06:35 AM
Last Modified: August 27th, 2012 06:36 AM
The grizzly bear that killed a lone backpacker Friday in Denali National Park appeared unaware a person was close for nearly the whole time the man was snapping pictures from maybe 40 yards away.
"Certainly too close," chief park ranger Pete Webster said Sunday.
Richard White, a 49-year-old from San Diego who relished hiking and camping alone in the wilderness, was attacked Friday afternoon next to the Toklat River, an area of prime bear habitat about three miles south of the park road.
He took 26 pictures of the bear with his digital camera over a span of 7 1/2 minutes, but the bear seemed to take notice of him only for the last few seconds, according to National Park Service officials who based their assessment on photo time stamps.
It was the first fatal bear mauling in Denali's recorded history, going back more than 90 years. Alaska Wildlife Troopers shot and killed the bear Saturday. Park officials say they are sure it was the one responsible because White's clothing and other material linking it to him was found during an examination of its stomach contents.
"We know for certain the bear we killed is the bear that killed the backpacker," Webster said. "I'm very confident no other bear is involved."
The backpacker's father, Byron White, told a San Diego newspaper that Richard traveled whenever he could take off from work and had been to Denali before. He had worked as a pharmacology director for San Diego's Ferring Pharmaceuticals until last year and was in the process of switching to a new company, Byron White told the U-T San Diego newspaper.
"He had a real zest for seeing the phenomena in the world and interacting with people all over the globe," Byron White said. "He also liked hiking alone in these remote places. He enjoyed being out in the wilderness."
White was married and had a young daughter, the newspaper said.
NO PEPPER SPRAY OR GUN
He had been in the Denali National Park and Preserve backcountry for three nights and had two more to go on his backcountry permit, park spokeswoman Kris Fister said. The Park Service wasn't immediately able to confirm that he had backpacked there before. Every year 1,500 to 1,700 backcountry permits are issued for Denali.
On the permit, he indicated he had more than 30 years experience backpacking. He didn't carry bear spray or a gun but did circle that he had a whistle, Webster said. Rangers recommend that backcountry hikers carry bear spray but it isn't required.
On Friday afternoon, White was hiking to a new camping spot in the Denali backcountry. He started shooting photos of a big, male grizzly at 12:58 p.m. Alaska time, Fister said.
"The majority of them were just regular snapshots of a bear foraging, either on vegetation or on berries," Webster said.
Rangers used satellite imagery to estimate that the bear was just over 40 yards away when White started taking pictures with his zoom lens. They haven't yet confirmed the distance with ground estimates or with tracks or other evidence from the scene.
White had taken mandatory "Bear Aware" training before getting his permit. Backcountry travelers are supposed to stay at least one-quarter mile from bears and to leave an area if they happen upon one. If the estimates are right, he was about ten times closer than he should have been.
He took the first bear shots with a wide angle. Then he zoomed in. The last five or so pictures, taken in a span of 13 seconds, are a bit different. The bear lifts its head up, looking away from the camera. Then the bear turns its attention to the photographer. It starts moving in White's direction.
"There were no shots indicative of a charge," Webster said. But the bear did appear agitated in the last couple of photographs, taken just after 1:06 p.m. It had "a definite, focused stare."
FIRST SHOTS MISS
Park officials are evaluating whether they can, and whether they should, release the photos to the public, Fister said.
Friday afternoon, three hikers on a day trip found White's backpack and evidence of a struggle, including blood and torn clothing. They returned to the Toklat River Rest Area and called park rangers about 5:30 p.m.
By 8:30 p.m. Friday, a helicopter had deposited rangers next to a gravel bar near the braided river's edges. As the helicopter hovered, a bear ran into the brush. Rangers spotted the body in a food cache site, where the bear had buried it, Fister said.
The bear began circling around the rangers. They fired two rifle shots but missed. With darkness closing in, and the bear guarding its cache, the situation had become too dangerous, Fister said. The rangers were able to get back on the helicopter and leave for the night. They returned on Saturday afternoon with wildlife troopers, Fister said. A trooper shot and killed the bear from the helicopter, Webster said.
It's uncertain whether there was one bear or two in the vicinity on Friday evening, Webster. On Saturday, they saw a total of four bears in an area of several miles around the body. But only one was sitting on its cache, the buried body. The bear had fed on the hiker, Fister said.
The bear was estimated at 600 pounds, big for Denali. It was a mature boar, at least 5 years old.
Rangers don't have any evidence that any other bears tried to feed on the hiker.
The park service has a bear-human conflict management plan that calls for destroying bears in situations where they become a threat to people. Sometimes bear attacks can be explained as natural acts: A bear surprised in thick brush. A sow defending her cubs. A bear guarding a dead moose calf cache. Often, a bear runs off after a mauling and there may be no reason to hunt it down or even a way to be sure the right one is found.
For unknown reasons, this bear turned predator, Webster said.
As a precaution, rangers have closed about an area of about 125 square miles around the kill site. They'll monitor the area for a couple of days to make sure no other bears appear to be unusually threatening.
The man's family and the bear were innocent victims of deadly arrogance. Mr. White chose to ignore both rules and common sense. He in effect challenged the bear's genetic nature to where the bear reacted with explosive certainty.
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