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Steve Stevenson, Hunter, Dies In Montana After Wounded Grizzly Bear Attacks

KEITH RIDLER   09/17/11 06:45 PM ET   AP

A 39-year-old hunter killed by a wounded grizzly bear yelled out to draw the 400-pound male bear toward him in an effort to keep it from attacking his young hunting partner, the man's family said.

"They both shot it and it kept coming," Steve Stevenson's mom, Janet Price, said on Saturday. "Steve yelled at it to try and distract it, and it swung around and took him down. It's what my son would have done automatically, for anybody."

The Lincoln County Sheriff's Office in Montana said Stevenson, of Winnemucca, Nev., died Friday after 20-year-old Ty Bell wounded what he thought was a black bear and the two men tracked it into thick cover along the Idaho-Montana border where it attacked at about 10 a.m. Friday.

The two were members of a four-member hunting party from Winnemucca that had been going after black bears in the mountainous, heavily forested region near the Canadian border when the attack occurred. It's unclear if the attack happened in Idaho or Montana. The sheriff's office said GPS coordinates put the attack directly on the state line.

Authorities said Bell used his cell phone to call for help after the attack, but Stevenson died from his injuries. Stevenson's family said he was an active outdoorsman who had made previous hunting trips to the area. He worked as a gold and silver miner for a company called Hycroft, said his stepfather, Christopher Price. Stevenson was married and had two daughters, ages 14 and 10.

"He was a great friend to everyone, great fun," said Janet Price. "A wonderful man."

John Fraley, spokesman for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said four agency workers were flown to the remote area by helicopter on Friday. Stevenson's body was taken out by helicopter and turned over to the Lincoln County authorities in Montana. The sheriff's office said the body was being taken to the Montana State Crime Lab for an autopsy.

Lincoln County authorities did not return a call from The Associated Press on Saturday afternoon.

Fraley said the grizzly was one of about 45 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates live in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem Area in northwest Montana and northern Idaho. Fraley said the bear is being taken to the agency's lab in Bozeman for a necropsy.

He estimated the bear's age at 6 to 8, based on its weight of 400 pounds.

"That's a good-sized grizzly bear," he said.

Janet Price said the hunters had the necessary licenses to hunt black bears in both states and had decided to hunt in pairs after spotting what they thought were signs of a grizzly bear in the area. She said they planned to leave the area if they spotted one.

Janet Price said that after Bell shot the bear, the two hunters waited until they thought the bear had died and then tracked it into thick cover.

"They tracked the bear into an area of heavy cover where Mr. Stevenson was attacked by the wounded grizzly bear," Lincoln County Undersheriff Brent Faulkner said in a news release late Friday. "Mr. Bell was able to shoot the bear multiple times, eventually killing it."

Fraley said Montana hunters are required to take a black bear-grizzly bear identification program. He said identifying them can be difficult, and that the two species typically behave differently.

"Anytime you have a wounded animal it can be dangerous," said Fraley. "But usually, grizzlies are considered more aggressive than black bears."

The attack is under investigation. It's illegal to kill a grizzly bear, which is listed as threatened in the Lower 48 states, but there was no immediate word if Bell would face any charges.

In 2007, a black bear hunter from Tennessee mistakenly killed a protected grizzly bear in north-central Idaho, where the last confirmed sighting of the species was in 1946.

The death is at least the third fatality caused by a grizzly since July. In late August, a grizzly in Yellowstone National Park, some 400 miles south of the latest attack, mauled a Michigan hiker to death. In July, a female bear with cubs in Yellowstone attacked a couple from California, killing the man before fleeing.

This attack comes as Idaho's congressional delegation has proposed amending the Endangered Species Act to clarify that it is legal to shoot a grizzly bear in self-defense or in defense of another person.

The legislation was in response to the case of a northern Idaho man who shot and killed a grizzly cub in May after its mother and another cub wandered onto his property.

Jeremy Hill, 33, was charged with a federal crime of killing a federally protected species, but the case was dropped last week and he paid a $1,000 fine for a noncriminal infraction.

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