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Wildlife researcher remembered after fatal fall in San Pasqual Valley canyon

Posted at 5:06 PM, Jan 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-10 21:19:06-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — A local wildlife researcher is being remembered after he died Thursday at a remote canyon in San Pasqual Valley.

David Bittner, 75, of Julian, died what he loved doing. He was replacing batteries on wildlife cameras in the Brady Canyon area, when he fell at least 50 feet. The county's Medical Examiner says Bittner called to a friend there with him, but was pronounced dead at the scene shortly later after crews pulled him to safety.

Bittner co-founded the Wildlife Research Institute with his wife and devoted his life to the cause, according to Molly Jager-Begent.

"He would tag eagles all over the world and follow their paths to figure out what was really happening in the world of wildlife," Begent said.

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Begent said she and her husband donated a portion of their ranch off Highland Valley Road in Ramona to the Wildlife Research Institute. Lined inside the ranch are wildlife photos captured by Bittner, another passion of his.

"He was just really dedicated. He had a passion," Begent says.

For decades, Bittner led a free "hawk watch" on Saturdays during the first two months of the year, where biologists would teach the community about birds and their relationship to raptors.

Begent said the wildlife expert helped educate thousands on the importance of wildlife preservation, even purchasing 3,000 acres and gifting it to the county as a wildlife preserve, according to Begent.

"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," said Katie Quint, who worked closely with Bittner.

Thursday, Bittner was replacing batteries near the location of a threatened Golden Eagle's nest, according to Quint.

"Dave has been advocating for San Diego County’s Golden Eagle population with local agencies by ensuring the long-term documentation of their nesting ecology over the past 31 years," said Quint.

Saturday, a special tribute is planned for Bittner from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Begent Ranch in Ramona, the area where he connected so many to his love of wildlife.