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Bear safety forum speakers share stories

Nicholas L.M. Allen photo. Jeremy Evans, a mauling survivor and author of the book ‘Mauled,’ speaks at the Bear Safety Forum on April 20.

Nicholas L. M. Allen

Apr 24, 2024

Bear Safety Forum on April 20 held at Elks Hall in Blairmore.

Survivor recounts mauling experience at first annual Bear Safety Forum on April 20 at Elks Hall in Blairmore.

At the inaugural Bear Safety Forum organized by the Crowsnest Pass BearSmart Association, attendees were riveted as Jeremy Evans, a mauling survivor and author of the book ‘Mauled,’ recounted his harrowing encounter with a grizzly bear.

His presentation, filled with vivid descriptions and raw emotions, shed light on the importance of bear safety and resilience in the face of adversity.

Evans prefaced his talk with a warning about the graphic nature of his story. He emphasized that his journey was one of survival, resilience, and the indomitable human spirit. 

The audience listened intently as Evans detailed the events leading up to the fateful encounter on August 24, 2017. Excited about his hunting expedition, Evans embarked on what he anticipated to be a routine trip to bag a ram.

“I got my bicycle out of the truck, grabbed my backpack, put it on and had my [binoculars] on my chest,” said Evans, “I open up the back door of my truck just to see if there’s anything that was missing and then there’s my bear spray, just lying in the back seat of the truck.”

After asking himself if he really needs it and if he will even see a bear on his journey he quickly grabbed it. Little did he know his excursion would take a drastic turn.

“I grabbed [the bear spray] and I just shoved it in the corner of my backpack because I was too lazy to take off my helmet, my binoculars, and attach it on my chest,” said Evans, “I was too excited, I saw my ram three days before and now I’m going out there, I know where he is, I want to get out there and see him.”

As Evans biked and walked to his sheep camp, about a 14-kilometre trip from his truck, his focus on the prized ram blinded him to the signs of danger lurking in the area. 

“I’m walking up the last drainage making my way slowly and I spotted some sheep across the way. I got really excited. There’s my sheep. There’s sheep over there... Then I spotted my ram and I got really excited,” said Evans, “I walked up that drainage into, as the bear investigators tell me, I walked myself into a bad situation.”

Despite the presence of bear tracks and other indicators such as bear droppings and berry bushes, he underestimated the risk and stopped his bike for a bite to eat and watch the rams.

“I stood up to stretch and when I did, I notice a little brown thing run in front of me, less than 10 feet away. I knew right away what it was. It was a grizzly bear cub. I could almost pet it.  I got this overwhelming feeling of being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” explained Evans.

 The atmosphere turned tense as Evans recounted the chilling moment when the bear charged at him, catching him off guard. 

“I was thinking I better grab my bear spray. As I was just reaching down to open my backpack. I heard a branch break over my right shoulder. You guessed it, mom was right there,” said Evans

Evans vividly described the excruciating pain and terror of being mauled by the grizzly bear, which attacked him three times over the course of the mauling, and he detailed how he fought to protect himself, grappling with the bear in a life-or-death struggle, using his backpack for defence. 

Despite suffering severe injuries, including facial disfigurement and loss of vision, Evans persevered through sheer willpower and determination, making it the 14 kilometres back to his truck and then driving an additional 22 kilometres while visually impaired to get help.

“I couldn’t tell where the end of the hood was, and where the road began,” added Evans.

In the aftermath of the attack, Evans underwent a gruelling recovery journey, both physically and mentally. He spoke about the challenges he faced, including PTSD and the toll it took on his mental health and family life.

However, Evans’ story did not end with tragedy. With the support of loved ones and professional help, he found the strength to overcome his trauma and rebuild his life. He emphasized the importance of seeking help and prioritizing mental health, urging others to do the same.

“It’s okay to ask for help. There are people out there to help you, to support you and get you through that,” said Evans.

Retired fish and wildlife officer Todd Ponich followed Evans’ presentation detailing his involvement in the harrowing wildlife incident that unfolded. Ponich served as a regional specialist at the time and recounted his role in investigating the incident involving Evans.

Ponich described the urgent response required to attend to Evans’ situation, which involved coordinating with various personnel and agencies to gather crucial evidence. Despite the challenging circumstances, Ponich emphasized the importance of maintaining relationships with individuals like Evans to gain valuable insights for future investigations.

The presentation shed light on the meticulous process of gathering DNA evidence from Evans’ clothing and meticulously documenting the attack sites. Ponich’s extensive experience in wildlife investigations, coupled with his training across North America, equipped him to lead the efforts to understand the behaviour of the bear involved.

“I’ve been involved in training with clear across North America, [including] Arkansas, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska and Yukon,” said Ponich.

During the presentation, Ponich highlighted the distinction between being a victim and a survivor, stressing the resilience and strength of individuals like Evans who endure such traumatic events. 

“We refer to people that have been in these incidents as survivors and I learned that from a gentleman that was a guide in a horse-riding trip in the Yukon. He was attacked and he survived. He said that one of the biggest turning points was getting out of that victim mentality. I’m not the victim and I will get better as a result,” said Ponich.

He also touched upon the collaboration between Fish and Wildlife officers and other agencies, emphasizing the specialized expertise required in handling wildlife-related incidents.

Ponich’s account underscored the complexities involved in wildlife investigations and the dedication required to ensure the safety of both humans and wildlife. 

The Bear Safety Forum served as a reminder that while encounters with wildlife can be dangerous, with proper education, preparation and support, the worst can be prevented. Other guest speakers included biologist Clayton Lamb and retired fish and wildlife officer John Clarke. Door prizes were handed out periodically at the event and numerous groups had stalls surrounding the hall with Chris’ Restaurant providing food.

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