three men were sentenced to prison and fined a total of $9,000 after taking selfies with brown bears at katmai NP
One of the defendants, seen here, violated federal law by entering the Brooks River at Katmai NP; (image/Erum Chad, YouTube)

3 Men Receive Prison Sentences for ‘Drunken Capering’ With Katmai Bears

Three men now face jail time, probation, and thousands in fines after taking selfies near several brown bears during a 2018 trip to Katmai National Park in Alaska.

Recent sentencing determined three men who waded into a river to take selfies with bears will prevent them from visiting any U.S. national park for one year.

David Engelman, 56, of Sandia Park, New Mexico, and Ronald J. Engelman II, 54, and Steven Thomas, 30, both of King Salmon, Alaska, violated federal law by leaving the designated viewing platform and entering the Brooks River where a group of brown bears was feeding at Katmai National Park. The park requires all visitors to stay at least 50 yards away from bears.

All three men pleaded guilty to the charges.

Men Punished for Illegally Approaching Bears

U.S. Magistrate Judge Matthew M. Scoble issued the sentence on Monday, May 16. The judge characterized the defendants’ actions as “drunken capering, and a slap in the face to those who were there.”

The National Park Service (NPS), Katmai National Park, and the NPS Investigative Services Branch investigated the case. In his decision, Magistrate Judge Scoble cited concerns over the safety of others and the bears. He also noted the economic repercussions the park could have faced if someone had been injured.

“These individuals behaved carelessly and put themselves at great risk. Brown bears are fierce, territorial predators, especially when concentrated in order to feed on migrating salmon,” said Mark Sturm, superintendent of Katmai National Park and Preserve.

“The conduct of these three individuals not only endangered other visitors and wildlife officers at Brooks Falls, they also potentially endangered the life of the bears,” said U.S. Attorney S. Lane Tucker for the District of Alaska.

The Engelmans will each serve week-long jail terms. Thomas’ jail term is set at 10 days. One year of probation will begin for each man upon release from incarceration. Collectively, they will pay $9,000 in fines, which will go directly to the Katmai Conservancy for distribution to the park.

According to the NPS, Katmai National Park and Preserve protects over 4 million acres of land and coastal resources. The Brooks River and Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes area support one of the world’s highest concentrations of salmon and brown bears. At least 2,200 brown bears roam the park.

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Jilli Cluff
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Jilli grew up in the rural southern Colorado mountains, later moving to Texas for college. After seven years in corporate consulting, she was introduced to sport climbing — and life would never be the same. She now works as a contributor, gear tester, and editor for GearJunkie and other outlets within the AllGear family. She is based out of Atlanta, Georgia where she takes up residence with her climbing gear and one-eared blue heeler, George Michael.