Forest Wagner

Forest Wagner

What led to Monday’s bear mauling? Fish and Game is trying to find out

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game still don’t know many details about Monday’s bear mauling near Haines.

Forest Wagner, an assistant professor with University of Alaska Southeast, is still at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage in serious condition as of Thursday afternoon.

Fish and Game has not talked to Wagner or any of the nine students and two teaching assistants that were on the Mount Emmerich expedition. The five-day trip served as a capstone to Wagner’s Mountaineering 1 class this spring semester.

“We’ve given our information to the students. We’re just waiting for them to feel comfortable to call us so we can gain more information and piece together what happened,” said Fish and Game area management biologist Stephanie Sell. Sell is based in Juneau and her coverage area includes Haines.

“It’s my understanding that nobody else in the group saw what happened. It sounds like Forest was hiking ahead of the group to check out which route was the most safe and that’s when it happened. It’s going to be real important to get ahold of Forest whenever he’s feeling well,” she added.

Because there’s a bear involved, Sell said it’s the role of Fish and Game to figure out what happened and try to prevent it from happening in the future.

“We manage the wildlife and we have the basic biology to try to figure out which bear it was, tracking down all the information that would link back to said bear,” Sell said.

Alaska State Troopers assisted in the search and rescue aspect of the incident, but have no other further involvement, said trooper spokesperson Megan Peters.

In other bear mauling situations, Fish and Game staff members sometimes go back to the area to try to find the bear. That won’t happen for this case given the area’s remoteness, Sell said.

The mauling occurred around 2,000 feet elevation on Mount Emmerich close to the Kicking Horse River. That’s across the Chilkat River from Haines. Sell said it’s remote and steep.

“Sounds like the perfect denning habitat,” Sell said.

Sell confirmed it was a brown bear that attacked Wagner. She was told by a trooper that a cub was seen.

From the few details she does have, Sell suspects the bear attack was defensive.

“Forest perhaps surprised the bear and the bear was surprised by Forest. In a situation like that – how remote that location is – it was kind of one of those things where bumping into a bear shouldn’t be something that’s unexpected,” she said.

Sell said despite wanting to piece together the events that led to Monday’s attack, her thoughts are foremost with the students and Wagner, who she knows personally.

“I know Forest is a very avid outdoorsman. He taught his students very well. He was very fortunate to have students in the group that were wilderness first responders and were able to help him out,” Sell said.

Wagner has declined to give any media interviews, but in a statement released Wednesday, Wagner said he expected to be in the hospital for up to two weeks.

• Contact reporter Lisa Phu at 523-2246 or

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