Three men sentenced to jail and fined for wading with bears
Three men who left the safety of a viewing platform to wade into the river to photograph brown bears at the famous Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park in Alaska were sentenced to jail and each fined $3,000.
“These individuals behaved carelessly and put themselves at great risk,” Mark Sturm, superintendent of Katmai National Park and Preserve, stated in a press release. “Brown bears are fierce, territorial predators, especially when concentrated in order to feed on migrating salmon. Things could have easily ended very badly.”
Brooks Falls is located on the Brooks River and is a popular summer destination to view salmon leaping over the 6-foot falls as bears congregate and feed on them, sometimes catching the salmon in mid-air.
A viewing platform at the falls was built in 1982 to provide separation between people and bears, and visitors are instructed by the National Park Service to remain in designated viewing areas.
On Aug. 9, 2018, David Engelman, 56, of Sandia Park, New Mexico, and Ronald J. Engelman II, 54, and Steven Thomas, 30, both of King Salmon, Alaska, decided to leave the platform and wade into the river to get photos. David Engelman was seen on the livestream camera taking selfies of himself in front of the feeding brown bears.
The three pleaded guilty to their illegal actions and their punishment was announced Monday by the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Alaska.
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David and Ronald Engelman each received a one-week prison sentence and one-year probation. Thomas was sentenced to 10 days in prison and one-year probation.
The $9,000 in fines were directed to be paid to the Katmai Conservancy, a nonprofit that will administer the funds to the park for law enforcement and other purposes.
Also, the three are prohibited from entering any national park for one year.
From the DOJ:
In imposing the sentences, Magistrate Judge Scoble stated concerns of deterring others, the economic impact of tourism to Katmai National Park if someone had been injured or a bear killed for injuring one of the men. The court also noted the dangerousness of their conduct as well as the impact on those who witnessed the actions of the defendants and had their experiences in the park ruined by their actions. Magistrate Judge Scoble characterized the defendants’ actions as “drunken capering, and a slap in the face to those who were there.”
“The conduct of these three individuals not only endangered other visitors and wildlife officers at Brooks Falls, they also potentially endangered the life of the bears.” said U.S. Attorney S. Lane Tucker for the District of Alaska. “We are committed to working with Alaska’s National Park Service to ensure everyone who visits our parks can have a safe experience in seeing these magnificent animals in their natural habitat.”
Photo of David Engelman wading in the river, and generic photos of the viewing platform and bears in the river at Brooks Falls courtesy of the National Park Service.