LEWISTON, Maine — Pine Tree Legal lawyer Matt Dyer is recovering in a Montreal hospital from a polar bear attack, according to his wife.
“I just want the community to know that he will recover,” said Jeanne Wells of Turner. “The Canadians did an amazing job of getting him transported. There was a doctor in the group who took care of him right from the start. He is in very stable condition. He will make a full recovery and that is a testament to his strength.”
Wells said the attack occurred overnight Tuesday. Dyer was camping with a group in the Torngat National Park on the northern tip of Newfoundland.
Wells said the attack happened while the group slept.
“He fought the bear,” she said. “He fought the bear, and they fired flares and the bear dropped him.”
Torngat National Park is a 3,700-square-mile Canadian National Park located on the Northern Labrador Mountains in Newfoundland. These are the highest Canadian peaks east of Rockies and, according to Parks Canada, are home to seal-hunting polar bears, caribou and remnant glaciers. The park was established in 2005.
Peter Deering, manager of resource conservation for Parks Canada in Western Newfoundland and Labrador, said Dyer was part of a group on a guided tour of the area.
“It’s an incredible landscape, both in terms of mountains and seascapes but also culturally,” he said. “This was a home to the Inuit for thousands of years. It’s a fascinating place to visit.”
It’s known for polar bears, however, and Deering said the group was equipped with an electrified fence designed to repel the animals. The group was sleeping behind the electrified fence when the attack occurred, Deering said.
“When you are traveling in Torngat Mountains National Park, you are really in polar bear country,” Deering said. “There are high densities of bears in the park and you are at very high risk of encountering a bear. That said, this is the only incident we have had of this seriousness since the park was established.”
Authorities are investigating and trying to determine what kind of fence was used and if it was working properly at the time of the attack.
“Typically, a good fence, when it is set up properly, will deter any polar bears that happen to touch it,” Deering said. “I’m sure you are familiar with the fences they use for horses and cattle. It’s like that, with a considerably higher voltage.”
Deering said Dyer’s group was attacked by a single polar bear at about 1:30 a.m. on July 24. They were able to contact Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Parks Canada officials at about 6 a.m. that morning. A helicopter stationed at Saglek Fjord, about an hour flight away, was sent to the area and took Dyer to a trauma clinic at George River, Quebec. He was later transferred to Montreal General Hospital.
Wells said she learned of the attack Wednesday afternoon and flew to Montreal.
“We arrived at about midnight Wednesday,” Wells said.
Dyer is known in Maine as an expert in housing and tenant legal issues. He’s the lead attorney at Pine Tree Legal’s Lewiston office and represents many low-income and handicapped residents pro-bono.
“What’s great about Matt is that he’s for the people and he helps Lewiston’s most vulnerable,” said Melissa Dunn, resident coordinator for the Visible Community’s Neighborhood Housing League. “That means the disabled, the lower income. It’s nice to have somebody like that in their corner. He treats people for who they are, not based on their class or color or status.”
Mayor Robert Macdonald said Dyer has helped educate Lewiston’s landlords about housing law as well. Dyer wrote a guest column for the Sun Journal in May that was critical of the city and local landlords.
“I read his article and it aggravated everybody down at the city,” Macdonald said. “But I talked with some people I know and they said that he’s pretty smart. So I called him, and he was nice enough to come down and talk to the landlords. As a result of what he did, there will be more landlord meetings. He was very good, not the enemy, but there to help us. And he did help us.”