ANCHORAGE (AP) A man who was mauled by a brown bear near the Russian River early Tuesday remained in critical condition one day after the attack.
Daniel Bigley, 25, remained hospitalized Wednesday at Anchorage's Providence Alaska Medical Center.
He was just feet from a stairway that leads to the Grayling parking lot in the U.S. Forest Service's popular Russian River Campground when he a brown bear sow with two cubs grabbed him from behind. Witnesses said he had part of his face torn off and lost at least one eye.
In the aftermath of the mauling, the U.S. Forest Service has closed the Russian River Trail and the banks of the river from the falls to the confluence from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. through July 25.
The Forest Service has no authority to prohibit fishing, so anglers could walk up the river and fish. Anglers will, however, be unable to drive to the Russian River Campground, get a parking space and walk down to fish.
Retired Col. Frank Valentine, a former member of the U.S. Army Rangers, said he and his wife, Celeste, were settling into bed when a young man and a young woman came pounding on the trailer's door.
They told him of the mauling and asked for help. Though it was still light enough to see, Valentine grabbed a flashlight and headed for the stairs.
He said the two young people told him they'd been standing near the top of the two-tiered stairway when they heard shouting below. Then three bears what appeared to be a sow grizzly and two cubs bounded up the steps.
The couple, turned, ran and dove through an open window into the back of a Chevrolet Blazer. The bears ran past and back into the woods. The couple started blowing the horn to attract attention before going for help.
When Valentine returned with the couple to the head of the stairway, he sent the woman to wait in a nearby restroom built of concrete blocks, while he and the young man headed toward the river.
They found Bigley and a friend down in tall grass and brush. The friend was trying to stop Bigley's head from bleeding. At first, Valentine thought Bigley was dead.
''He had severe trauma,'' said the Vietnam veteran on vacation here from his Georgia home. ''I've been in combat, and I've never seen anyone with those type of injuries who has survived. It looked like he had been blasted in the face.''
But when Valentine checked on Bigley, he found the man conscious, his pulse good and his airway clear. Valentine called 911 on his cell phone.
''There really wasn't anything we could do down there except wait to transport him,'' he said.
Bigley was lashed to a backboard. Volunteers carried him up the stairs to a waiting ambulance. A helicopter then flew him to Anchorage.
It appeared, according to authorities, that Bigley simply stumbled into trouble on his return from an evening of fishing. He was following a trail used by thousands of people every summer. Valentine had just come up the same trail, carrying three red salmon.
Bear problems along the river have escalated since the middle of last month when the first of two annual returns of red salmon arrived late. Kenai Peninsula area wildlife biologist Jeff Selinger with Fish and Game said that in recent days there have been reports of several grizzly bear sows with cubs in the area, as well as a number of black bears.
Problems grew serious a week ago when an angler was charged by a brown bear sow with three cubs. He shot at her to protect himself. The fate of that bear was unknown until two days later when the cubs were reported up a tree in the Russian River Campground. The rotting carcass of their mother was found not far away.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game regional wildlife supervisor Jeff Hughes said biologists subsequently decided to euthanize the less-than-50-pound cubs because no zoo or other wildlife facility could be found to take them.
It was not, Hughes said, an easy decision. Fish and Game, he said, is in the middle of a program trying to preserve a Kenai brown bear population believed to be threatened by increasing development.
''We've got to do a better job,'' he said. ''Maybe we need to provide the bears with a buffer.''
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