U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Seth Michael Plant, 30, was killed in a fatal bear attack while on a training exercise in Anchorage, Alaska, Tuesday. Plant was part of a small group from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) operating in Training Area 412 west of the Anchorage Regional Landfill, according to a statement from the base. A second soldier received minor injuries in the attack.
Evidence collected at the scene suggests a brown bear was involved in the attack. “From everything we know so far, based on the scene investigation and information from other responding agencies, this appears to be a defensive attack by a female bear protecting her cubs,” Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) said in a statement. Emergency personnel responding to the attack encountered a brown bear in the area and deployed bear spray to drive it away, and a den was found nearby with two brown bear cubs present. Fur collected at the scene was also consistent with a brown bear attack.
A video on the JBER website that urges caution in dealing with a heavy bear presence shows both black and grizzly bears on the base, which covers 64,213 acres of coastal lowlands surrounded by high mountain chains, mostly consisting of wild areas dotted with lakes and swamps. Hunting and fishing are allowed on the base, and access is managed through the use of an online registration system. Training Area 412 was closed to the public after the incident, which is Alaska’s first fatal bear attack of 2022.
Attacks involving both bear species have occurred in the Anchorage area in the recent past. In 2014, a female jogger was seriously mauled by a grizzly sow with cubs on the base, and in 2018 a grizzly sow with cubs killed a man in nearby Eagle River. In 2017, two Anchorage residents were killed by black bears in separate attacks. According to a 2019 report from Alaskan health officials, 68 people in the state were hospitalized because of bear attacks from 2000 to 2017, and 10 people were killed by bears during the same period. Seven of the fatal attacks involved brown bears, and three involved black bears.
JBER is headquarters for the U.S. Alaskan Command, 11th Air Force, U.S. Army Alaska, and the Alaskan North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) Region. Base officials said the 673rd Security Forces Squadron initially responded to the incident, and Alaska Wildlife Troopers led the initial search for the bear, which continues under the direction of ADF&G. The bear is considered a public safety threat and may be killed by the department.
Staff Sgt. Plant, of Saint Augustine, Florida, an infantryman with the 3rd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, joined the Army in 2015 and had been stationed at JBER since July 2021. At the time of the attack, he and two other soldiers were using a map and compass to set a course for a navigation exercise, according to John Pennell, a spokesperson for U.S. Army Alaska. Pennell did not have information about whether the soldiers were armed with guns or bear spray. “That’s part of the ongoing investigation…to find out what happened and if there’s any change that needs to be made to the current way we do business,” Pennell told Alaska Public Media.