The U.S. National Park Service has approved a race through part of the Valles Caldera National Preserve on May 20 - nearly a year after a marathon runner was attacked by a bear at the preserve in the Jemez Mountains.
The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a national group made up of state and federal professional government workers, criticized the Park Service for permitting the event at a time when bears and their newborns are emerging from hibernation. Wildlife and humans will be at risk, it said.
"How many more people need [to] be mauled for these clueless officials to conclude this is a bad idea?" Jeff Ruch, the group's executive director, said in a statement.
But the organizer of the Jemez Mountain Trail Runs on May 20 and the National Park Service said the risk of wildlife and human encounters is small and that the potential for encounters shouldn't prevent recreation in the Valles Caldera.
"The risk of human-wildlife conflict can never be fully eliminated. We try to take measures to reduce those risk potentials," said Kimberly DeVall, who is with the National Park Service at the Valles Caldera. "We are requiring more safety measures with those running the event than with the average park visitor."
Bill Geist, who organizes the Jemez Mountain Trail Runs, said runners will be briefed about wildlife and required to run with small bells that can be clipped to clothes or shoes and are meant to notify bears of a human presence without startling the animals.
For the first time since the run began more than a decade ago, an emergency medical technician will be at first aid stations and a text alert will inform runners if wild animals are present.
The course will also be run in reverse this year as an added safety precaution, according to the website for the Jemez Mountain Trail Runs. That will put runners closer to Los Alamos late in the race, which starts and ends at the Los Alamos County Sheriff's Posse Lodge.
Last June, a woman was just 2 miles from the finish line of a marathon in the Valles Caldera when she startled bear cubs up a tree and incited the sow to maul her in defense, biting into the woman's neck and clawing her face.
The bear was killed and its cubs raised temporarily at a wildlife sanctuary. The incident caused state legislators to re-examine a state policy requiring any animal that attacks a human to be killed and tested for rabies. Lawmakers ultimately left the policy in place.
About 500 participants are expected for the Jemez Mountain Trail Runs on courses of 15, 31 and 50 miles. Only the 50-mile course goes through the Valles Caldera.