Grandfather of Utah bear victim blames feds for “surreal nightmare”

“The grandfather of an 11-year-old boy who was killed by a black bear blamed authorities today for not warning that the hulking animal was believed to have harassed another group of campers at the same site hours earlier.” Story in the Statesman-Journal.






  1. Debbie Avatar

    I can’t believe that they say they can’t sign backcounrty campsites ???

    No, but they could sign all the way up and down back country roads. The reason they can’t is because they are to dam lazy to post the signs…….

    My sister lives in the mountains above Beaver, Utah and she had a brief encounter with a bear at her back door. It took the Ranger over an hour to respond to her 911 call. The reason ???? “I’ve never been up here before. wasn’t sure where to go”……..HELLOOOOOOOOO… what, they sit on their fat butts in the office and do nothing ???Guess they do. I think I would know the area that I was to patrol. Maybe take a drive up the mountain to see what was what and who was who….. And to think we pay their salary.

  2. dave smith Avatar
    dave smith

    Expect a lawsuit. There was a similar situation in Arizona in 1996 when a bear injured a teen girl on Mount Lemmon near Tucson,, and her family won a $2.5 million out of court settlement with the Arizona Fish & Game Dept.

    If you’re camping in bear country with kids, have your kids sleep in the center of the tent, surrounded by adults, and put your gear on the outside edge of the tent. If you’re hiking with kids in bear (or mountain lion) country, put adults at the front and rear of the line, sandwich kids in the middle.

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    To Debbie,

    How should backcountry campsites be signed, given that they are undeveloped and scattered?

    Most Forest Service districts have been so reduced by Bush budget cutting that they have almost no field personnel.

    Note: by law the Forest Service plays little role in wildlife management. Wildlife is managed by the states.

  4. SAP Avatar

    dave smith:

    I expect to see a lawsuit, perhaps with an out-of-court settlement. However, the Arizona case differs markedly: AZ G&F had captured and translocated the offending bear five days prior to the attack. [see article in Volume 7 of the Western Black Bear Workshop Proceedings]

    The bear in the American Fork case evidently had no management history prior to this past weekend.

    Debbie, it all comes down to having a contingency plan and having the personnel to implement it.

    What you would need in that situation is for the campground host (a volunteer, usually some friendly retired guy with an RV) to have a stack of closure signs similar to what Yellowstone Park has on hand. Keep in mind here, though, that the attack did not occur in the official campground.

    The camp host would have the signs, a stapler, and a radio or sat phone to confer with actual USFS staff. He would also have a “better safe than sorry” standing order: if he was NOT able to reach USFS staff, he could go ahead and post warnings or closures in response to any incident, on his own discretion.

    Then there’s the whiny public downside to such a contingency plan: “better safe than sorry” warnings or closures would have two outcomes: families being scared away from their weekend camping plans by warnings, and / or being shut out altogether by closures.

    We never really know when we’ve PREVENTED a mauling, unless we actually stop a bear in the act. We only truly know when we’ve FAILED to PREVENT a mauling, and we know that this week, tragically.

    So, you close an area (or post warnings that scare people away, which amounts a closure for most families), and people whine because they think the agencies are “over-reacting” or “giving bears more rights than people” (my kingdom for mandatory critical thinking courses!!!). You don’t close an area, a kid gets killed, and people insist you should have closed it. [And, as the article makes clear, in this case the agencies didn’t really have a clear idea of what happened in the first incident, so it sounded less serious than it was.]

    Of course, as Ralph points out, they can have all the protocols and contingency plans in the world, but they amount to nothing without the staff to carry them out. Many USFS units have almost ZERO seasonal staff this year, and retiring permanents are not being replaced.

    Under those circumstances, it’s unrealistic to think that they’re going to be able to jump on every bear problem. The money that used to pay for good management of OUR LAND is paying for bullets in Baghdad.

    I don’t know about Utah, but Montana has a law that limits liability associated with recreational activities. That’s what kept Montana in the clear on the lawsuit over the Hillston fatal mauling by a grizzly in the Blackfoot Valley — the court held that grizzlies were “a condition of the property,” and that by being there Hillston was accepting the risks associated with that condition.

    Every state with bears should have such a law, because people need to understand that there’s ALWAYS a risk when bears are around.

    And Debbie, maybe your sister ought to get some bear pepper spray or a firearm if she’s going to live up in the mountains. A bear in the yard isn’t a 911 emergency around here.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan