Three men are facing federal charges in Alaska after the group approached a group of wild brown bears while they were feeding in 2018, federal prosecutors said.
On Aug. 9, 2018, before 7 p.m. local time, David Engelman, 56, of Sandia Park, New Mexico, and Ronald J. Engelman II, 54, and Steven Thomas, 30, both of King Salmon, Alaska, were at the viewing platform of Brooks River at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park and Preserve, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Alaska.
The trio then left the authorized viewing platform and went down into the river. At the same time, a group of brown bears were feeding at Brooks Falls, as well as in the river. Authorities say the men came within 50 feet of the bears and “created a hazardous condition” for the wild animals.
National park rangers became aware of the situation the next day after multiple people who were watching live bear camera feeds saw the three people in close contact with the bears and called in.
The National Parks Service is investigating the case. If convicted, the three men could each face up to a maximum of six months in prison, a $5,000 fine and a year of probation, according to prosecutors.
Alaska is known as bear country as all three North American bears – brown, black and polar – live in the state. Brown bears can be found “nearly everywhere in Alaska,” according to the state’s department of fish and game.
Katmai National Park and Preserve, which is around 4.1 million acres and located on the Alaska Peninsula, is home to about 2,200 brown bears, according to the NPS.
“Approaching any large mammal within 50 yards and remaining within 50 yards of a bear using a concentrated food source, like spawning salmon, is prohibited,” according to the park.
It is very common for people to run into bears at Brooks Camp, especially since it’s a popular destination for the animal to find salmon. The area was closed in July this year so bears could hunt without interruption.
Brown bears were responsible for 70 deaths in over 50 years in North America, the most of any wild animal in that span.
“People need to recognize that these are wild brown bears. These visitors are lucky that they escaped the situation without injury. The possible consequences for the bears and themselves could have been disastrous,” Katmai National Park and Preserve superintendent Mark Sturm said in 2018.
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Bears spend time from late June through October in the area eating before hibernation begins in the winter. Bears gain so much weight from feeding there that they are the subject of the park’s annual Fat Bear Week, which begins Wednesday.
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