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Bear attack prompts caution

Posted by Lauren Braden at Sep 21, 2010 02:56 PM |
How to stay safe when encountering a bear.
Bear attack prompts caution

A bear spots a hiker on the Naches Peak Loop Trail. Photo by backpackerjmk.

Bellevue City Council member and former Wilderness Society staffer John Chelminiak is recovering at a Seattle hospital after a serious black bear mauling occurred while he was walking his dogs outside his vacation home on Lake Wenatchee Friday night. If you haven't already heard the news, you can read about the attack here at the Seattle Times. We wish John a very speedy recovery.

While many hikers have seen black bears on or near hiking trails, black bear attacks on humans are extremely rare. According to Captain Bill Hebner with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, there are 25,000 black bears in Washington state. He was a guest today on KIRO radio and explained just how rare such an attack is:

"In the last 100 years we know of four attacks on humans, one of those were a fatal attack, and we had three others, this weekend's event makes five," said Hebner. He went on to compare those slim statistics with those of dog attacks. "In King County alone last year there were 450 dog attacks on people, so that helps put this in perspective."

Still, there are certain conditions that can increase the likelihood that a bear might have a hostile encounter with a human. The cool summer weather and compromised berry crop this year might be creating such conditions. The day the bear attack occurred near Lake Wenatchee, the Associated Press published a story warning that as hibernation approaches, bears looking for food to bulk upon aren't finding it in the usual places:

"Without their usual diet of berries and nuts as hibernation approaches, mama, papa and baby bears in the West are turning to cars and cabins and finding the leftovers are juuuust right. Huckleberries, nuts and pine cones are in short supply this year because of poor growing conditions, so bears have taken to breaking into cars, nosing around backyards and raiding orchards.

What does this mean for autumn hikers? Know that you are more likely to see a black bear on your hikes, and that bears may act more aggressively towards hikers and dogs. If you are in an area where there are still berries, you may encounter a bear that will likely be defensive of them. Remember, this is a matter of survival for them to fatten up before hibernation, so they will be quite serious about defending their food. It may be difficult to get a bear to move away from its food source even if you yell at it.

If you're hiking and encounter a bear acting aggressively, abandon your hike or stick to bear watching from a safe distance. If you're backcountry camping or car camping, be hyper-vigilant about keeping your eating well away from your tent and hanging your food (click here for information on constructing a bear hang). If you hike with a dog, make sure they're on a leash.

What other ideas do you all have for staying safe? Share them here!

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