A thought-provoking comment I received on an old post last night, from a Blog reader in BC, has prompted me to place the bear attack theories up for discussion.
What do you think about bears and bear attacks? Can they be avoided? Are they on the rise? What should be done about it?
Here is Larry Norman’s message regarding the number of bear maulings in the west recently:
I am writing a article and wondering what are your thoughts on recent bear attacks in B.C.?
I have been an avid outdoors person and all my encounters with bears and cubs have always been good outcomes. Common sense often dictated course of action which respected the unpredictable nature of bears and no surprise by each party…but maulings and attacks as presented by recent mainstream media seem to think its a re-occurring or prevalent problem.
Don’t get me wrong Bears will take the path of least resistance when he has a taste for human food or garbage…and I understand such “problem bears” can be viewed as a public safety concern and destroyed as any wildlife threat to humans that come into conflict….I think I want to write an article that for as many bears there are in B.C. the majority are not as conflictual in the maulings or those killed by a blk or grizzly bear….Just thought I would get your thoughts prior to writing and if I can, I will let you preview what I have written should I quote you. thank you.
This was my response:
Hello Mr. Norman, thanks for your message.
Yes, there certainly have been a number of recent attacks in the west. The 72-year old Lillooet woman has just been confirmed as being killed by at least one black bear, and another man survived a grizzly attack in BC’s central coast. I also read about another serious black bear attack in Arizona and of course, a 57-year old man was fatally attacked and a woman injured in Yellowstone earlier this week.
Although the number of recent bear maulings might indicate a ‘trend’ or some sort of rise in negative bear encounters, this time of year typically sees an increased number of grizzly and black bear maulings. From spring to late summer is the ‘high season’ for bear attacks, if you look at the statistics, and there are lots of stats out there to pore over.
As you mentioned, however, the majority of bear encounters in BC and across North America for that matter, do not end in an attack. Yes, there are a number of attacks each year some of which could have been avoided, while most in my opinion are simply unavoidable.
The 57-year man killed in Yellowstone this week by a mother grizzly with cubs is -contrary to popular belief, an extremely rare occurrence. Although sow bear attacks do occur, most if any are ever fatal. Mother bears are usually more intent on scaring you away or sending out a message not to mess with her and her young.
Male bears, on the other hand, carry with them a different intent and therefore are more of a danger to humans. Predatory bear attacks are the most common ‘fatal attack’ and occur with both black bears and brown bears(grizzly). Some have suggested that the ‘smaller salmon runs’ may be the root of some western attacks, while we always hear the story of ‘a poor berry crop this year’ as the root of many black bear encounters in the east.
The truth of the matter is that some bears, especially those in more remote areas, do occasionally target humans as their prey and when that happens you had better watch out. All the best camping and food storage techniques in the world will not protect you in bear country with a predatory male bear in the vicinity.
Take myself for example, I have been hunting and fishing in bear country for more than 30 years and though I have seen many bears in the wild, all but one went the other way immediately. I did have one male bear charge me in QC years ago, when there was no apparent reason for it. He was not pressured or cornered and had plenty of room for escape, but he instead chose to charge at me. In all likelihood, it will never happen again. I am statistically a lot more likely to be injured driving to work in the morning.
So, to answer your question about bear attacks on the rise, yes in some regions there tends to be more than others, and some years we see more incidents than other years. The year 2005, for example, was a record-setting year for bear attacks in NA and I can recall writing many articles on the subject at the time; putting forth a host of theories as to why so many people were getting mauled. In some cases bear numbers were on the increase, but really there was no hard and fast rule to explain the high numbers of deaths that year.
Ursus, as we all know, are top-level predators and omnivores with a voracious appetite. As long as we travel and spend time in bear country, there will forever be attacks and unfortunately fatal maulings.
The best we can do, if we wish to continue travelling and spending time in bear country, is to educate ourselves and be prepared for it.
Larry, I wish you luck with your article and invite you to post it here at the Outdoors Guy Blog.