| FAIRBANKS--A backpacker shot and killed a grizzly bear Friday night in Denali National Park and Preserve, the first such incident within the park's original borders in decades and also the first since a February change in federal laws allowed licensed visitors to carry loaded guns in national parks, a parks spokeswoman said Sunday afternoon.
Parks biologists and rangers are investigating the case, trying to figure out whether the backpacker had justification for shooting the bear, said Kris Fister, a park spokeswoman. The parks service was withholding the hiker's name as of Sunday.
Fister's statement read that "it is legal to carry a firearm in the (original) portion of the park, but it is not legal to discharge it."
The incident was first reported Saturday in Daily News-Miner columnist Kris Capps' blog. Fister confirmed Sunday that two backpackers came across signs of the bear while hiking along the edge of Tattler Creek. The lead hiker then drew a .45-caliber pistol and, when the bear emerged and charged the second hiker, a woman, fired roughly nine shots in its direction.
Fister said the bear retreated to the brush and the hikers re-covered roughly 1.5 miles back to reach the park's road, where they found a park employee and reported the incident.
Federal laws had, prior to February, generally banned loaded guns in national parks aside from certain situations, such as a case where people carried unloaded, dismantled firearms.
That ban hadn't applied in two-thirds of Denali but it had covered the original one-third of the park, named Mount McKinley National Park before an expansion and renaming as part of the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
Fister said this is the first time a brown bear has been shot in the park's original, 93-year-old section "in decades" and is also the first since the new law took effect.
Fister said rangers and wildlife specialists flew Saturday morning to Toklat to interview the hikers and, afterward, to scour the area for signs of a wounded bear. After no signs, she said, rangers hiked to the site and at 6 p.m. Saturday found a dead bear in willow thickets close to a handful of gun casings. A helicopter crew then flew the bear's body to the park's headquarters for an investigation, she said.
Park rangers told the Daily News-Miner in February it had been legal to carry loaded guns in the park's newer two-thirds prior to the February law change. They also said it remains illegal to shoot guns in national parks unless it's part of a permitted hunting trip.
Fister estimated there are 300 to 350 grizzly bears living in the park north of the Alaska Range.
Doyon/Aramark Joint Venture, which runs the park's bus system, has not, as of this spring, told the park service how it will handle the gun issue. Messages left Sunday afternoon for Aramark spokesmen were not immediately returned.
Find Capps' "Denali Life" blog at newsminer.com/pages/blogs_denali_life.
Read more:Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - Grizzly bear shot killed in Denali National Park
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