U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reviewing protocol following bear attack

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing safety protocols following the grizzly bear attack of one of its seasonal employees in the Cabinet Mountains south of Libby in May.

The bear attacked field assistant Amber Kornak, 28, about 11 a.m. May 17 while she was collecting grizzly hair samples in Poorman Creek Drainage for a genetic study.

The Associated Press reported that Kornak’s skull “was cracked open, (and) her back and arm had been clawed.”

Kornak, reported to be recuperating at home in Great Falls and doing well, told the Associated Press that despite the attack she still wants to work in bear research.

Kornak’s temporary position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ends Sept. 30, said agency spokesperson Jennifer Strickland.

“If she is able to return to work prior to that date, we would welcome her return and her job would be waiting for her,” Strickland said via email.

It is typical for a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service researcher to be unaccompanied in areas where bears are known to be present, Strickland said.

“Every year we train our staff on bear ecology, behavior, and what to observe for bear sign,” she wrote. “We discuss making noise to alert wildlife to our presence in appropriate situations, and we also train technicians on how to use bear spray, which we provide.”

Kornak’s use of bear spray after her attack, which caused the bear to flee, “most likely saved (her) life,” according to Dillon Tabish of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the agency that investigated the attack.

Tabish recommends that people travel in groups of three or more whenever possible in bear country. Strickland said that her agency advises people similarly, “although this specific guidance is targeted to those who may have minimal experience.”

Still, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is “currently undertaking a review of our safety protocols … because keeping our employees safe is of paramount importance,” Strickland wrote.

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