Haines bear mauling victim was attacked by brown bear sow

A man who was injured in a bear mauling near Haines early this week was attacked by a brown bear sow with at least one cub. That’s according to Alaska Fish and Game Biologist Stephanie Sell, who is tasked with gathering information about the incident.

Download Audio

Forest Wagner. (Photo courtesy of UAS)
Forest Wagner. (Photo courtesy of UAS)

“We suspect that this was kind of a surprise situation and the sow was acting defensively,” said Sell.

University of Alaska Assistant Professor Forest Wagner was leading a five-day mountaineering trip on Mt. Emmerich when he encountered the bear. Wagner was medevaced to Providence Hospital in Anchorage, where he is in serious condition. The nine students and two teaching assistants with him were not harmed.

Sell said she will wait to talk to the students until they are ready. Much of her information now comes from the local wildlife trooper. Sell’s goal is to figure out what happened to see what can be learned to try to prevent future attacks.

“We just want to learn what happened, was there anything that triggered it,” Sell said. “They were in a remote location and it’s really good denning habitat. That kind of just adds to the factor that they were probably close to the area where sows would be with cubs. I do suspect that it was just a surprise event, where Mr. Wagner was hiking above the group and he surprised the bear, the bear surprised him.”

Sell said she has not talked to Wagner. But he has confirmed that it was brown bear. Sell says her understanding is that nobody else saw the attack. She said as Wagner was being evacuated from the mountain, the students heard a cub bawling, and the risk of the sow returning was at least partly why the whole group was evacuated by helicopter.

The mauling victim on Monday was attacked by a brown bear sow. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Fish and Game)
The mauling victim on Monday was attacked by a brown bear sow. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Fish and Game)

“Whenever we can talk to the students, that might shed some more light on what happened,” said Sell. “There’s a lot of stories that are going around right now and it’s really hard to say what’s accurate and what’s not accurate at this point without talking to people that were actually on the ground.”

Wagner has worked as an outdoors studies instructor at UAS for about a decade, teaching courses such as mountaineering, backcountry navigation and travel, and outdoor leadership.