What Bear Attacks Tell Us

posted on May 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.

A few weeks later, in early June 2005, Isabelle Dube, a professional mountain bike racer, and two friends went jogging on a hiking trail in the area where the grizzly had been approaching people. When the women jogged around a bend they saw the bear coming up the trail. They started backing up. But the grizzly kept coming. Dube panicked and climbed a tree. The other two women ran out of the area; however, before they were out of earshot, they heard Dube screaming desperate, bloodcurdling things.

About an hour later one of the women made it back with a warden who shot and killed the grizzly, but it was too late for Dube. The most appalling part of this tragedy is that Dube’s death was avoidable; after all, if grizzly hunting was allowed in the area certainly any bear brazen enough to approach people would have been shot quickly. You can almost hear a hunter gushing, “Yeah, the bear hunt was too easy. This bear just came right to me.”

What We Can Learn: Dube and her friends should have had a firearm or bear spray. They shouldn’t have split up. As the bear was clearly predatory, running away would also have been a mistake. Even if they weren’t armed, they should have backed out while bluffing that they were a foe not to be tangled with. They should only have attempted to climb a tree if they were sure they could get up one before the bear reached them.

What Game Managers Can Learn: Canadian officials should have learned how to treat aggressive bears; however, instead of learning from their mistake, Canada’s wildlife officials’ next response was a Neville Chamberlain-style appeasement. They terminated the hunting season in the areas in Alberta where grizzly hunting was allowed after the 2005 season. Alberta’s provincial Ministry of Sustainable Resource Development explained that the grizzly population might be declining, so they needed to do studies to find out—one has to wonder how Dube would feel about that hypothesis; especially when you consider that while bear hunting was legal, the Canadian government reported annually that the grizzly population was growing at a rate of “2-3 percent per year.”


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