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What Bear Attacks Tell Us

With the number of bear attacks breaking records, it’s time to see what can be done to stop the trend.

5/4/2011

Consider each of the following bear attacks and what the victims did right and wrong so you’ll know what to do. After all, your odds of being mauled by a bear might technically be less than being struck by lightning, but such an odds comparison really isn’t fair. If you live in and never leave Los Angeles, then your odds of being in a bad encounter with a bear are effectively zero, but if you travel to Alaska to hunt blacktails or to western Montana to hunt elk then your odds are appreciably higher. Such is why hunters in particular need to know these things.

The Killer Bear A Dispatcher Didn’t Take Seriously
When former Forest Service employee Carolyn Gosse received a phone call about a problem bear in Utah’s American Fork Canyon campground in 2007 she opted not to report it to anyone. The campers that encountered the bear left. Later that day the Ives family put up a tent in the same location, not knowing about the bear.

The worst kind of nightmare occurred that night. Around 11 p.m. a monster came and dragged Samuel Ives, an 11-year-old boy, screaming and fighting from a tent. The boy’s stepfather came running with a flashlight. He thought Samuel had been abducted, as the boy and his sleeping bag were gone. The black bear dragged Samuel into the bushes and killed him.

Hunters from the Utah Division of Wildlife Services, aided by hounds, treed and killed the black bear late the next morning.

Samuel’s parents think the Forest Service should be held accountable. They think the Forest Service should have closed the campground or at least informed campers about the problem bear. At press time, U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball, a federal judge in Utah, was considering whether to award $2 million to the family.

The Forest Service sacked the employee who didn’t report the earlier incident. In her termination letter, she said that she’d “denied [her superiors] the opportunity to provide notice.”
Such lawsuits have failed before. Courts have dismissed negligence cases involving bear attacks under a rule that protects government employees from liability for performing discretionary functions and duties. But liability has been imposed when officials failed to follow mandatory policies.

What We Can Learn: A firearm within reach or bear spray could have made a difference, but not with absolute certainty. Playing dead wouldn’t have worked. Fighting back or getting away were the only options.

What Game Managers Can Learn: Game managers should have taken the bear more seriously. However, holding wildlife departments accountable for bear attacks could result in the closure of many areas, as the government would have to reduce its own liability.

A Treestand Hunter’s Worst Nightmare
Chad Fortune, 21, was spending a Saturday evening last October in a treestand in Bear Creek Township, Mich., when four black bears ambled close. At first he was enjoying watching the three cubs play, but then two of the cubs climbed the ladder on his stand. When he shouted at the cubs, they climbed back down. But then the third cub wanted a try. It climbed the ladder. Fortune yelled, then punched and kicked the cub as it tried to get in the stand with him. That’s when the mother climbed up and bit him on the leg.

The cubs all left the tree and the sow ambled away. Fortune waited two hours before leaving.
An investigation by Michigan Department of Natural Resources found that the incident might have been worsened because Fortune was wearing clothing underneath his camouflage hunting gear that smelled like fried food. Before hunting, he’d been at a family party.

What We Can Learn: Not smelling like a cheeseburger and fries is helpful, especially with bears used to feeding on human garbage. This attack is actually a very good example as to why the NRA lobbies in states all around the country to change laws that prevent bowhunters from carrying a firearm for self-defense.

What Game Managers Can Learn: Sometimes very odd things just happen. If the bears are losing their fear of humans and feeding on human refuse, then the garbage must be stored in bear-proof containers and hunters or wildlife professionals can be used to kill the boldest bears. 

The Black Bear That Doesn’t Like Food Plots
Last May a black bear repeatedly tried to drag Gerald Marois of Waubaushene, Ontario, out of a tree. He was planting a food plot when the bear came for him. Marois climbed a tree but the bear came up after him. Marois clung to the tree as he hit the bear on the nose and the head. The bear pulled one of his boots off and started biting the bottom of his foot. It repeatedly dragged him back down the tree. The bear then pulled off Marois’ other boot and then tried to rip off Marois’ chest waders.

“That was messing him up, because they were coming back like an elastic, eh?” Marois told the Toronto Star.

Marois said the bear started eating into his right calf. Marois used a cigarette lighter to burn the bear’s face, but it swatted it out of his hand. As he grew weak from the 10-minute-long fight Marois prayed to God. The bear finally yanked Marois from the tree but when they landed it took off. Marois credits his guardian angel with chasing the bear away.

What We Can Learn: Marois didn’t give up in a fight with a predatory black bear. According to Stephen Herrero’s research, 18 of 20 black bear killings of people he investigated were the result of predation. The bears had decided to eat someone. The time of day could be verified in 15 of these 20 attacks and, of those 15 killings, 14 occurred during daylight. So always fight back when a black bear attacks.

What Game Managers Can Learn:  A spokesman for Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources said the bear may have mistaken Marois for a deer. Marois, however, argues that the bear “didn’t mistake me for nothing … he was hungry and he came to get me.” Since Ontario closed its spring bear season because of lobbying from anti-hunting groups bear problems have been on the rise.

A Grizzly That Lost Respect For Us
In May 2005 a male grizzly approached a woman on a hiking trail near Canmore, located about 40 miles west of Calgary, Canada. It was testing her, seeing if she was easy prey. She escaped. The bear then began frequenting a golf course, causing golfers to sweat more than sand traps. In response, wildlife biologists darted the grizzly with a tranquilizer, put a GPS tracking collar on it and moved the bear about a dozen miles away to Banff National Park.

According to Dave Ealey, a spokesperson for Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, the bear wasn’t relocated because of aggressive behavior, but simply to discourage it from approaching people. (Note to Canadian wildlife biologists: When a mature grizzly approaches people it is exhibiting aggressive behavior.) How waking up in a national park is supposed to teach a bear anything isn’t clear. What we do know is the grizzly walked right back from Banff. And wildlife officials knew the bear was back, too. Its radio collar gave its precise location.

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2 Responses to What Bear Attacks Tell Us

Kenneth L. Seipp wrote:
May 13, 2011

With the increasing number of encounters and/or problems, I'm wondering how long it is going to be before a bear attack on a human, fatal or otherwise, occurs here in Florida. There have already been problems with destruction of property which the FWC should be held accountable/responsible for. It is my observation/opinion that bears are neither an endangered and/or threatened species in Florida, and that they are not afraid of humans as evidenced by the encounters and destruction of property that have occurred...even within the city limits of Jacksonville. I am afraid that someone is going to be severely mauled and/or killed if the FWC doesn't heed the warning signs and do something (hunting seasons?) soon. ...If bear encounters are so rare in Florida, why wasn't a vehicle crash involving a sow and her two cubs in Palatka, FL, reported by the news media? ...why are there "bear signs" warning drivers to watch for bears crossing the highway...and, so on? Personally, I couldn't even begin to run away from a bear, and I'm taking precautions so that I can stand and defend my family and myself. I would rather be alive to deal with the aftermath incurred by defending myself in a life threatening situation, than be a victim! That reminds me, there was a report of a cougar in a tree near an elementary school watching the children on the playground...I wonder what would be the response if...?

William W Wennen, MD wrote:
May 12, 2011

Having taken care of over a dozen bear maulings in my career here in Alaska as a plastic surgeon there are a great number of things that I have learned that were not mentioned in this report. First, here in AK black bears are often considered "garbage bears" because that is where they are often found and are accustomed to human scent and yes they will actually eat humans. Grizzleys on the other hand for some reason do not but will tear the hell out of the human body more out of either spite, defense of food or territory or to protect young. Brown bears are no different, in fact many believe that they are genetically genetically the same. Most encounters up here occur by chance or "accident" while hunting or trekking through our dense woods or undergrowth. The grizzly will go for the head first, tearing all manner of tissue and human parts free or at least loose. The it will go back and rake its 7 inch claws across the low abdomen and the genital area, presumably believing that if the "offending" creature is still alive injuring the genital area in most all of God's creatures is sensitive to say the least and if the creature (human or animal) winces, makes a noise or moves, the bear goes either back for the head again and or pokes the claws at the chest puncturing the lungs. There is so much more to pass on to every one but I really do not want to monopolize this forum. I live in Fairbanks and if anyone has any questions my email is wennen@mosquitonet.com.