Pogo Mine officials have halted field work outside of the main camp after a black bear killed one contract worker and injured another at a remote site Monday. Meanwhile, state Wildlife Troopers and a federal mine-safety official began investigating the bear attack near the gold mine some 38 miles northeast of Delta Junction.
Pogo spokeswoman Lorna Shaw says the two victims of Monday’s fatal bear mauling were collecting geological samples at an exploration site about five miles from the mine when they were attacked. So she says mine officials halted that sort of work to review the company’s policies and precautions for dealing with bears in the wild.
“We have suspended all of the field work at Pogo,” Shaw said Tuesday. “And we’re investigating to make sure that we’ve done all the things that we can to prevent this situations like this from arising in the future.”
Shaw says a couple of state Wildlife Troopers and a Fish and Game representative removed the victim’s body Monday afternoon and sent it to the State Medical Examiner’s office for autopsy. She says the second victim was taken last night by ambulance to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and treated and released.
“This is a very sad incident,” she said, “and everyone at site is concerned for the family members of the individuals involved.”
Alaska State Troopers are withholding the name of the deceased victim until the medical examiner can confirm his or her identity. Pogo officials say the two victims worked for an Anchorage-based contractor conducting exploratory surveys for the mine. But they, too, have declined to identify the workers and the company that employed them.
Shaw says an official with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration also arrived last night to look into the incident.
“They arrived late in the evening (on Monday), so that they could initiative their investigation this morning,” she said.
Shaw says Pogo has develop a set of procedures since it opened 12 years ago for dealing with bears – a fairly common occurrence at the remote facility in the rolling hills of the Goodpaster River valley, where the mine’s approximately 500 workers live for, typically, a one- or two-week shift.
“We routinely conduct bear-awareness training,” Shaw said. That includes ensuring workers out in the field are equipped with, at a minimum, bear spray and a radio to maintain contact. She says the company also requires careful management of garbage around the mine to ensure it doesn’t attract bears or other wildlife.
“We have very strict rules on-site related to food and other potential attractants in the workplace, and disposal of waste.”
Shaw says only about six bears have showed up near the mine through May of this year, down from about 20 that through May of last year.
“So, significantly reduced activity,” she said, “but obviously it’s clearly more aggressive this year.”
Monday’s incident was the second fatal black bear mauling in Alaska over the course of two days. On Sunday, a 16-year-old competing in a race on an Anchorage-area trail was killed by a black bear as he made his way back after the race had ended.