By Kristi Dobson
Special to Black Press
Rachel Dame is doing what she can to support her brother following a terrifying grizzly bear attack. The forestry worker from Campbell River was seriously injured on March 22 while working at a logging camp on the mainland.
Ryan Arsenault spends part of his time in the office of Capacity Forest Management close to home and the remainder out in remote camps. He was about 100 kilometres north of Port Hardy when he was surprised by a grizzly bear.
“He was tagging trees and out of nowhere it appeared,” said Dame, a Port Alberni resident. “There was no forewarning. He tried hiding behind a small tree and yelled at it but that didn’t work. He tried booting it in the face hoping that would work but it took him down.”
The bear first attacked Arsenault’s lower leg, shattering his fibula, and continued to bite his head. At that point, Arsenault tried to protect his skull with his arms when the bear went for his wrist. His thick work vest saved his back and torso.
Dame said the quick action of his coworkers probably saved her brother’s life.
“There is a protocol everyone has to follow and they have to be a certain distance from coworkers at all times,” she said.
One of the coworkers heard Arsenault yelling at the bear, who, along with another worker, found him and contacted the base for first aid and a helicopter. The attack took place at about 10:30 a.m. but the crew had to hike about three hours down steep terrain and snow with a stretcher. From there, he was flown to the hospital in Port Hardy to receive a full blood transfusion and staples in his head.
“It could have been a lot worse if they didn’t make it down before dark,” Dame said.
Arsenault has been in Victoria General Hospital since Thursday, March 23 when he underwent his first surgery to place bolts and plates in his arm. His leg first had to receive extensive cleaning and the prognosis remains up in the air. There were initial concerns about bacteria and possible nerve damage.
This was not the first time Arsenault had seen bears while working, but they have typically kept their distance from people.
“He has seen grizzlies before,” Dame said. “That is their territory and they usually walk away if they see you, but this one was very hungry. He had just woken up.”
The whole ordeal has been difficult on the family. Arsenault, in his 30s, is married with two children aged eight and 14. He will continue to stay in Victoria for at least one month and undergo more surgeries over the year. When Dame found out she had friends and family across the country wanting to help out, she created a gofundme account.
“He is very well-liked and fun to be around,” she said. “There have been a lot of people reaching out who don’t even know him.”
She said time will determine what the next steps are but is hoping Arsenault will be transferred to a hospital closer to home.
To help the family with expenses, the gofundme link can be found at here.
Kristi Dobson is a freelance writer in Port Alberni, BC