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Experts find no odd factors in bear attack

Published: Wednesday, June 20 2007 2:58 a.m. MDT

Brad Rawlins, left, and grandfather Eldon Ives, spokesmen for Samuel's family, talk about their loss.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News

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Wildlife experts on Tuesday were finding no unusual stress factors that might have prompted a large black bear to attack and kill 11-year-old Samuel Evan Ives in American Fork Canyon.

But simple proximity of humans and bears seems to guarantee that more conflicts are inevitable, said the director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Jim Karpowitz added that Sunday night's "horrible, tragic bear attack" could be just the start of bear problems this summer.

"Bears are all around us" on the Wasatch Front, he said. "They are on our doorsteps" because of the proximity of homes to forested mountains.

"There are more bears around these days, more people camping," he said.

Karpowitz predicted interactions between humans and bears will increase. Bear problems have already occurred in northern and northeastern Utah this year, he added.

"We are working very hard, under our bear policy, to deal with those right now," he said.

The boy's family, residents of Pleasant Grove, camped a short distance north of Timpanooke campgrounds in the Uinta National Forest. Late Sunday night the bear ripped through the tent where Samuel was sleeping and pulled him outside while the boy was in his sleeping bag. Awakened by his screams, the family tried to find him but could not.

Two hours later searchers discovered Samuel's body about 400 yards from the tent site. Trackers with dogs killed the bear, estimated at between 300 and 350 pounds, about 11:30 a.m. Monday. A necropsy (animal autopsy) at a state laboratory based at Utah State University confirmed it was the same bear.

Hal Black, professor of wildlife biology at Brigham Young University, said the bear's weight probably was about 300 pounds, "which is an early summer bear." He talked with a friend who helped track the bear and load its carcass.

After gorging all summer, a large adult black bear could weigh 400 pounds before it hibernates, Black added.

This animal looked like a healthy, mature male bear. It did not seem emaciated, the friend said.

Bears are omnivorous, eating nearly any potential food they come across from fish to grass, ants, mice and deer. At the elevation where the attack occurred, possibly around 9,000 feet, fresh forbs and grasses were available for the bear to eat.

"To think that he was starving is probably nonsense," Black said. "He looked healthy."

The bear's age was probably 6 to 9 years, based on size and the fact that the canine teeth were not yet ground down, he said.

This time of year, bears tear open logs and stumps and eat insects inside, like ants. Also, "They're eating wasp's nests, which seems like a tough way to make a living," Black said.

Male bears cover more ground than usual around this time, searching for female bears. Possibly its travels brought it to the campground.

"It could have been his first time in a campground or he could have been experienced," Black added.

Bears can smell food from a mile or two away, according to Black.

"I don't know what happened at the campsite. But this is not an unusual thing, for a bear to be smelling a human on the other side of the tent," he said.

The night before the attack, a bear ripped the tent of a camper in the same vicinity.

"If you're a 300-pound animal and you've got nice long claws, and you lean up against a canvas tent," Black said, "you might fall through it."

While an investigation will tell whether the bear was diseased, Black expects it was "a healthy animal. It was out foraging."

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