Grizzly Bear Shot by Backpackers in Denali National Park
Contact: Kris Fister, 907-683-9583
Two backpackers, a man and woman, encountered a grizzly bear Friday evening while hiking in the dense brush along the edge of Tattler Creek, which is at the west end of the Igloo Canyon, approximately 35 miles from park headquarters. The man, who was in the lead, drew a pistol when they heard a noise coming from the brush. When the bear emerged from the thicket and ran toward the other hiker, the man fired approximately nine rounds in its general direction. The bear stopped, turned, and walked back into the brush, where it quickly disappeared from view.
The backpackers ran and hiked approximately 1-1/2 miles back to the road, where they encountered a National Park Service employee, who called in the incident to the park’s communication center and transported them to the Toklat Road Camp. A ranger based there did a short preliminary interview at approximately 10:00 p.m. Because of the concern that a wounded bear was in the area, four backcountry units were immediately closed, and bus drivers were instructed to not drop off day hikers in the Igloo Canyon on Saturday.
Early Saturday morning rangers and wildlife technicians flew to Toklat via helicopter to conduct a secondary interview with the two backpackers. Later that morning they flew over Tattler Creek and all of side tributaries, very low at times, to determine if there was an active, wounded bear. No bears were seen during the overflight, so late in the afternoon three rangers hiked into the site. The bear was found dead in a willow thicket approximately 100 feet from the pistol casings at approximately 6:00 p.m. The bear’s body was transported via helicopter to a landing site on the park road and brought back to headquarters on Sunday. Biologists will have a necropsy performed.
The case is still under investigation, and because rangers are trying to determine if a criminal act took place, the names of the backpackers are not being released at this time. It is legal to carry a firearm in the original Mt. McKinley portion of the park, but it is not legal to discharge it. The federal government does not have a “defense of life and property” statute, but can assimilate state law if applicable.
This is the first known instance of a grizzly bear being shot in the wilderness portion of the park by a visitor. There are an estimated 300-350 grizzly bears in the park north of the Alaska Range.
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The vast landscapes of interior Alaska are changing. Large glaciers are receding, permafrost is melting and woody plants are spreading. Comparison of "then-and-now" photographs and data from major vegetation monitoring should allow detection, understanding and potential management of these changes.