Campers unaware of dangerous bear in area before it killed boy

Published June 20, 2007 1:46 am
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Campers had no idea that before 11-year-old Samuel Ives was dragged off by a black bear Sunday night from Timpooneke Campground that a bear had harassed others in the area that day.

The victim's grandfather, Eldon Ives, said Tuesday that more should have been done to protect campers.

"I do think that the campground should have been closed down," he said. "And there should have been given a stronger warning to campers about the potential danger of a bear that had already shown aggressive behavior toward humans."

Ives referred to an incident earlier Sunday when the same bear is believed to have ripped into another camper's tent. A man inside that tent was batted by the animal, but not injured.

"If they had known [about the bear] they would not have camped there," Eldon Ives said.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, U.S. Forest Service and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officials are asking themselves what more can be done to make the public aware of dangers and safety precautions - like keeping food and their associated odors sealed and away from sleeping areas.

Although DWR posts signs at campgrounds - including Timpooneke - and trailheads in bear country, it has no protocol to verbally warn campers of bear sightings, or even confrontations, said Jim Karpowitz, director of DWR.

"Out of this terrible tragedy is an opportunity for people to become more aware of how to act in the out-of-doors," he said. "When you see a bear sign, you have to pay attention to it."

He turned back criticism of DWR's bear program.

"The fact that we have so few bear incidences shows our policy is sound."

The agency treated the first occurrence on Sunday seriously and dispatched a team to kill the bear, Karpowitz said.

"It was shot at and harassed by dogs for five hours. We didn't think it would come back," he said. "Our guys left the mountain thinking they did everything they could."

It's practically impossible to warn everybody in a large national forest every time a bear wanders by, say wildlife officials.

"It's almost ludicrous to think that every time there's a human conflict with the environment we are going to close the forest," said John Logan, acting district ranger for the Uinta National Forest.

Nonetheless, officials were ready to close off the forest in a 20-mile radius from Timpooneke Campground if the bear had not been killed by 2 p.m. Monday, Logan said.

Eldon Ives said Sam's mother and stepfather were experienced campers and did not have food in the tent. The food was in the car, he said.

In the long run, forest and wildlife officials should be much more aggressive about educating people about keeping their camps, their homes and themselves safe from bears, said Kirk Robinson, director of Western Wildlife Conservancy, a non-profit advocacy organization. Officials should have acted swiftly once they learned about the Sunday morning episode, he said.

"At that point, the Forest Service should have closed the campground."



* JUDY FAHYS and NATE CARLISLE contributed to this report.

* The U.S. Forest Service manages campgrounds in national forests in Utah.

* The State Division of Wildlife Resources manages bears and other wildlife in those forests.

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