KALISPELL – When animal attacks occur in the Treasure State, Fish, Wildlife and Parks dispatches a Wildlife Human Attack Response Team (WHART) to investigate.
FWP Region 1 in Northwest Montana expanded that team and wrapped up a three-day animal attack training session in the Flathead on Thursday. The event was led by Brian Sommers who is an expert in the country on investigating animal attacks.
Sommers led the investigation when a field assistant working in a remote section of the Cabinet Mountains was caught off guard in mid-May in a surprise grizzly bear attack south of Libby while working on a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service grizzly bear project.
“She was walking up the road the bear was there feeding and it was just — I call it a perfect storm. You have got a lot of water rolling from the high run off it’s raining that day the wind is blowing you have actual water running down the road,” Sommers said.
“She’s walking on and the noise level from all of that is immense and even though she was blowing a whistle, clapping her hands and making noise she just it was just that proximity where they got to close to each other,” he added.
Sommers has spent 33 years as a FWP game warden including 11 as a criminal investigator. He led the Libby investigation in determining the type of bear involved in the conflict which at the time was unknown — and so were the circumstances of the encounter.
Sommers says to make those determinations investigations must be a thorough process from start to finish with the highest priorities being to protect the victim and the public.
Those taking part in this week’s training were walked through as real as situations as could be generated by the agency.
Sommers told MTN News that if an attack is predatory then the animal needs to be captured and removed from the landscape. In the Libby case, it was determined to be a surprise encounter.
When it comes to predatory attacks, lion and bear specialist Erik Wenum would have led the capture. He’s spent 28 years with FWP and has captured more than 5,000 bears.
“Today’s training — the last three day’s training — I’ve been taking the lead on the animal side, the animal behavior pre and post mauling, you know animal behavior in general and then today as one of the instructors I’m a team leader for the dynamic scenario,” Wenum explained.
Around 33 folks from all around Montana came to Lone Pine State Park in Kalispell to take part in this week’s training sessions.
Reporting by Nicole Miller for MTN News