If it weren’t for the discovery of an unsecured skiff, a man killed by a brown bear may have gone undiscovered for much longer. In Alaska’s second fatal mauling this year, 54-year-old Tomas Puerta of Sitka lost his life in the state’s ABC Islands, in the northern region of of the Alexander Archipelago.
The prior death occurred less than two months ago when a hiker in Denali possibly got too close to a bear for a photograph. Two deaths by bear in a single year is unusual for a state that hasn’t experienced a bear attack for five years before this.
There is no human witness to what happened to Puerta in the last hour of his life. A passerby spotted Puerta’s unsecured skiff on Sunday, October 14 near Poison Cave on the southern part of Chichagof Island, just 30 miles north of Sitka, according to the local radio station, KCAW.
Sitka police and an Alaska State Trooper investigated the area following the report of the skiff. They found a campsite with evidence of a struggle, and a trail of disturbed vegetation and clothing led officials to a bear’s food cache, which containws human remains.
The remains were unidentifiable, but family and friends recognized Puerta’s belongings left behind in the boat and at the campsite. His remains have been flown to the state Medical Examiner’s office in Anchorage for DNA testing.
Puerta was working under a contract thinning trees in the Tongass National Forest for the U.S. Forest Service. The islands he was working on are known to be some of the most densely-populated brown bear habitats, although bear-human confrontations there are rare. The last time anyone was killed on those islands was in 1988 when a hunter out by himself was fatally mauled near Port Alexander.
Officials continued to look for the bear responsible. There is reason to believe two bears are involved. The person who first came upon the vessel went to inspect the island walked further into the woods, hollered and startled a sow and cub. The investigation is ongoing.