San Pasqual Valley

Wildlife Worker ID'd in Deadly Fall in San Pasqual Valley

The climber has been identified as a 75-year-old wildlife worker

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The climber who fell 50 feet and died in the San Pasqual Valley area has been identified as a 75-year-old wildlife worker.

John David Bittner was changing batteries on a wildlife camera to document eagle nests when he fell near Highland Valley Road, according to the San Diego County Medical County Examiner's Office.

Bittner called for help and a friend called 911, the office said. At one point, he was reported to be hanging upside down, according to Cal Fire. Cal Fire responded to the medical rescue off Highland Valley Road near Starvation Mountain Road at around 4 p.m. on Jan. 9.

A helicopter crew was able to move Bittner to the ground for medical treatment but pronounced him dead shortly after. During the fall, Cal Fire said Bittner may have struck his head in the fall. The Medical Examiner's Office has not yet announced an official cause of death.

NBC 7's Melissa Adan spent the day talking to people who knew the local wildlife expert who died during a climb.
This photo by Cal Fire shows the steep cliffs in the area.

Bittner founded the Wildlife Research Institute in Ramona, according to the group's website. He is known for his work studying the Golden Eagle population in San Diego County.

In the past, he had worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, according to the institute. He has also taught at three different universities.

"His life was dedicated fully to his love of wildlife and wild places, helping educate thousands on the balance of preservation and healthy appreciation of wildlife while protecting their habitat first and foremost," the Wildlife Research Institute wrote to NBC 7 in an email.

Bittner was featured on NBC 7's Your Corner in 2017, where he discussed mountain lions in Southern California.

He leaves behind his wife, Leigh Bittner.

"Dave died trying to protect one of the most endangered eagle nests in San Diego County, which is Bandy Canyon. The powers that be for the last 10, 15 years have tried to put a trail right next to the nest saying there are no eagles there," Leigh Bittner said. "Well there are eagles there and we have a camera and a camera trap there to prove it. That's what Dave was doing."

"Almost all of San Diego’s fifty Golden Eagle territories are threatened by development, unnecessary hiking trails and other human-caused disturbances during nesting time, but this one was special to Dave," the foundation wrote on a remembrance page that also accepts donations to the Dave Bittner Eagle Research Fund.

The Wildlife Research Institute will be hosting a Hawk Watch at 10 a.m. on Jan. 25 to honor Bittner and following that, a memorial celebration will be held around 1 p.m.

Motion activated cameras are being used to record mountain lions in San Diego's back country. It's part of a project to track the animals' movements around southern California. Researchers say development is cutting off the routes those animals use to breed.

Note: Cal Fire originally said the person was installing owl boxes.

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