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Wildlife company faces federal fines after bear mauling

By Eric Turcio, Reporter, eturcio@ktvm.com
Published On: Apr 30 2013 10:37:07 PM MDT
Updated On: Apr 30 2013 10:42:19 PM MDT
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is proposing $9,000 in fines for the wildlife company that owned and housed the bear.

24-year-old Benjamin Cloutier was cleaning a pen at the Animals of Montana facility north of Bozeman when he was killed. Animals of Montana is a wildlife casting agency that rents animals for photography and films.

The federal government has proposed thousands of dollars in fines for two violations. The first violation -- allowing employees to have direct, unrestricted access to the bears. The second violation was failing to report the death within eight hours.

NBC Montana talked to the owner, Troy Hyde. Hyde told us he is going over the recommendations and deciding whether to appeal the fines.

When the Bozeman-area wildlife company lost an employee to a bear mauling, it hit some residents hard. Area resident Kyle Steiner tells us the fines are not enough.

"I don't think the $9,000 fine is steep enough to get the point across on this severe issue," said Steiner.

Steiner says even though this was a captive bear, it should have been handled more carefully.

"I don't think it's any different as much as you train any wild animal and you put them in captivity, they still are that wild animal," said Steiner.

Animals of Montana is still deciding whether to appeal the fines. NBC Montana talked to the head trainer in November. The trainer told us Cloutier had the proper training, and the bear was beloved and well cared for.

Park County ruled the death accidental and decided not to press criminal charges. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks also looked into the incident.

'We sent the owner of Animals of Montana a letter which we made recommendations about safety improvement and suggested to him that the safety protocols were not adequate," said Andrea Jones.

Jones told NBC Montana with proper safety policies Benjamin Cloutier might never have died. The federal government agreed Tuesday, calling his death "a preventable tragedy."

"We said things needed to change, basically because this probably could have been prevented," said Jones.

FWP told Animals of Montana they should not allow individual employees to enter cages of large predators alone.

"It shouldn't take another agency saying we have to change something they should see the urgency of it," said Steiner.