Man faces petty charges in park bear incident
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Man faces petty charges in park bear incident

By Derek Hodges, The Mountain Press

The man whose interaction with a bear on Laurel Falls Trail last month led to the animal being euthanized has been charged with a minor offense in the incident.

Sean Konover, 26, of Wilton, Conn., is facing a petty charge of disturbing an animal, filed in federal court, where charges related to the park, which is federal land, are handled. Konover is likely to have his first chance to face the charge in August, a court official reported.

Until news of the charge came out, Konover was the only one of the two involved in the May 12 whose name was not publicly known. After his encounter with the juvenile female bear, the creature was given the name Laurel by concerned animal lovers who started a campaign to save her life.

According to national park spokeswoman Nancy Gray, visitors to Laurel Falls had been feeding the bear for some time, to the point where the animal was known to come regularly to the trail to eat. Having received reports of what park officials call a “food-conditioned bear,” that is one that is comfortable with humans because it has learned they can provide its meals, rangers began patrolling the area in an effort to stop the interactions.

Unfortunately, those efforts were unsuccessful, mainly because the rangers couldn’t be on the trail all day every day and visitors continued to ignore signs prohibiting the feeding of wild animals. The bear was interacting with hikers on May 12, with reports some were feeding it and that an obvious crowd of onlookers and amateur photographers had assembled, Gray said.

Konover was apparently among those and is believed to have approached the bear to get a picture of it. Gray said witness reports indicate Konover actually stopped some distance from the animal, which then approached him and eventually struck his left foot, leaving only minor injuries. Contrary to those statements from other Laurel Falls hikers that day, the federal citation reportedly alleges Konover approached to within a foot of the bear, which then turned on him.

Either way, the fact Konover and the others were too close and the fact he could have moved away from the bear as it approached are good reason to file charges, Gray said. Far from just being a means to punish Konover for the incident, which led to the bear’s being put down a week later according to park service policies, the charge is also an attempt to educate the public about the fact approaching wild animals in the park is illegal.

“When someone is cited for an activity that is illegal, hopefully people will learn from that incident,” Gray said. “When somebody is involved in an illegal activity or performs an illegal action, the park is responsible for filing charges. Hopefully publicity about that can serve as an education for other folks, as well.”

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