_by Steve Hill
Two days after a female grizzly with cubs fatally mauled a hiker at Yellowstone National Park, a kayaker helped defuse another potentially tense bear encounter by towing to safety a woman who waded into a pond to avoid a foraging black bear.
Erin Prophet, of Boston, was hiking near Joffe Lake near the park’s Mammoth Hot Springs headquarters July 8 when the bear–originally reported to be a grizzly but later identified as a cinnamon black bear–ambled out of the woods. Yellowstone spokesman Dan Hottle and bear biologist Kerry Gunther happened to be nearby conducting an interview with CNN on bear safety. With the CNN camera rolling, they alerted Prophet, who backed away from the bear and ended up knee deep in the cold pond with no clear route of escape.
That’s when Dave Beecham, of West Linn, Oregon, got involved. Beecham, who was kayaking with his father-in-law and young son, towed Prophet across the pond to safety.
Beecham told Portland news station KGW that he was torn between helping Prophet and protecting his son. “We just thought, ‘We’ve got to save this woman’s life,’ but then on the other hand I had my son in the kayak, so we were like, ‘When do we go get her?’ And when the bear got too close we decided we had to take some action,” Beecham said.
Prophet was glad Beecham was there to help. “I was pretty afraid,” she told CNN. “Especially after what happened a couple of days ago.”
On July 6, Brian Matayoshi was fatally mauled by a grizzly bear while hiking near Canyon Village, about 15 miles away in central Yellowstone. Matayoshi’s wife, Marylyn, survived the attack. Reports say the couple first spotted the bear, a sow with cubs, from 100 yards and immediately retreated, but the grizzly charged. It was the first fatal bear attack in the Yellowstone since 1986. Park officials note that such violent interactions are exceedingly rare, calling it “a one-in-3-million” encounter.
Much more common are the kind of close brushes between people and bears that Prophet experienced–even if the particulars (a kayak “rescue” captured by a national news crew) were unique.
“The bear wasn’t acting aggressively, it was simply foraging and making it’s way down to the water and she just happened to be in its path,” said Hottle, who characterized the kayaker’s actions as “more like giving assistance” than a rescue.
“But the bear did get within 25 to 30 feet of her, and who knows what could have happened if it had changed its behavior or if the hiker had made a sudden move.” He credited both Beecham and Prophet with handling themselves well. “It was a good situation all around, and it turned out about as well as one of these encounters can. The message really is that every bear should be treated as a potential danger, but bears shouldn’t be feared, they should be respected.”