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Alleged Shooter of Brown Bear Arrested in Alaska

Sean Doogan / KTUU-TV / August 11, 2005

On Aug. 3, a dead brown bear that was apparently shot on the Russian River was discovered, and it angered many who use the area. Thursday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that an Anchorage man has been arrested, charged with six counts of violating state game laws.

Michael Oswalt and a friend went fishing on the popular Russian River on July 29. They went to catch, net and land some of the many salmon that annually choke the shallow waters. Now, it seems Oswalt has found himself in a net, accused of illegally killing a sow brown bear and orphaning its three cubs.    

The Russian River is an annual gathering place for fish enthusiasts, both man and bear alike. This year, both top predators have turned up in good numbers, especially the four-legged kind.

"In all the years that I've been going down there, this is the first time I've seen bears this close on the (Russian) river," said Bill Crawford.

For most, seeing an Alaska brown bear in the wild is an experience to remember. But for Oswalt, it will be one to forget.

"The state assistant attorney general is going to be handling the case. It's state fish and wildlife charges that have been filed against the person, six separate charg es," said Bruce Woods, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Oswalt has been charged with shooting the bear on July 29 and leaving it to die. The carcass was discovered by fishermen on Aug. 3. Oswalt was officially charged Wednesday after fish and wildlife investigators followed up on a report that he fired his rifle near where the bear was shot. A rifle was confiscated at Oswalt's Anchorage home.

"The state ballistics lab was able to tie at least one of the bullets, one of the shells that were recovered from the body of the bear with the rifling of the barrel," said Woods (below left).

Oswalt declined an interview with KTUU-TV, but according to the charging documents, he admitted to shooting the bear. He claims he did so only because the bear was acting aggressively.

Oswalt's fishing partner, however, told investigators that Oswalt had time to unfold his rifle stock and set up before shooting, shot the bear several times and that the animal did not act aggressively until after it was shot. Many who use the river are angry because the bear was caring for three cubs.

"They were real close and the sow was obviously in control of those cubs. She didn't, there was no aggressive movements on the part of any one of those bears," said Crawford.

Those cubs have been seen in the area where their mother was killed, but their future alone, without an experienced bear to teach them how to survive, is still very much in doubt.

Oswalt was charged in state court with six misdemeanor counts: taking a brown bear in a closed area; hunting out of season; taking a brown bear with cubs; failure to salvage the remains; hunting without a proper tag; and reckless endangerment.

The bear was killed on the Russian River , part of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Oswalt has only been charged in state court. Although he didn't say what Oswalt would have faced under the federal system, U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesman Bruce Woods did say that state laws carry a stiffer punishment for cases like this.

If convicted on all six counts in district court, Oswalt faces a maximum of three years in jail, and a fine of more than $11,000.

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