Fortuna hiker slowly healing

January 27, 2007 12:00 am

By Hilary Corrigan

Triplicate staff writer

A Fortuna man attacked by a mountain lion in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park on Wednesday is in fair condition and has been moved from the intensive care unit to the surgical unit at Mad River Community Hospital in Arcata.

Jim Hamm, 70, suffered deep cuts to his head, face, torso and arms when the lion attacked as he hiked with his wife along Brown Creek Trail at about 3 p.m.

Nell Hamm, 65, used a tree branch to beat the lion and tried to stab it in the eye with a pen, eventually scaring it off. The couple walked about a quarter of a mile to the trailhead at Newton B. Drury Parkway, where they found park staff and work crews who called for an ambulance.

"She's quite the hero," said Tom Ayotte, the hospital's director of strategic planning and safety. "Being able to get him out of there was just miraculous."

The lion bit into the back of Jim Hamm's head, causing several deep cuts and tissue damage.

"He still has quite a ways to go," said Ayotte, noting necessary stitches and pain medication, as well as antibiotics to ward off infections. "That's one of the things we're watching very, very closely."

The incident marks the first documented mountain lion attack on a person in Humboldt County and the first in Redwood National and State Parks.

Park staff closed a six-mile section of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park on Wednesday as state wildlife officials searched for the lion that attacked, said park interpreter Rick Nolan. That section reopened on Friday after department officials confirmed tests showing human blood on one of the hunted lions.

State wildlife officials spotted and killed two lions after the attack, shooting a female dead that night and killing a male on Thursday morning.

Tests showed human blood on the female's claws, said Steve Martarano, spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game. The department planned to complete DNA tests to match the blood to Hamm.

Weighing 68 pounds, the lion likely ranged from two to three years old. The male weighed 80 pounds.

"We're confident we got the lion that did the attack," Martarano said.

Continuing autopsies at a state wildlife investigation lab in Sacramento sought to gather information on the animals' weight, stomach contents and any diseases. The data could also possibly show causes for the uncommon attack on a person, Martarano said.

The Hamms hike Redwood National and State Parks' trails about three times a week and had never seen a mountain lion there before.

Most people don't.

"It's very, very rare," Martarano said. "They see us a lot more than we see them."

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Tips for avoiding mountain lions

• Never hike, bike or jog alone

• Do not let children run unattended on trails

• Do not feed deer or other animals outside

• Avoid remote mountain lion terrain at dusk, dawn and night — the cats' active times

If you see a lion:

• Do not run, crouch, play dead, climb trees or turn your back to the cat

• Pick up children

• Look bigger by waving your arms, opening jackets, yelling

• If attacked, fight back

• For information, visit www.mountainlion.org or www.dfg.ca.gov/news/issues/lion.html

Source: California Department of Fish and Game