Sunday, June 03, 2018

Bears or Lightning: Which is more Deadly?

In online discussions of bear attacks, it is not unusual for people to claim that a person is more likely to be killed by lightning than to be killed by a bear. That is true, in a gross sense. You are also more likely to die of a heart attack or to be murdered than to be killed by a bear, when you use the entire United States population as a measure.

This comparison is disingenuous.  It is easy to avoid being killed by a bear, simply by staying out of areas where there are bears. Lightning strikes occur all over the United States. Significant bear populations are limited to a fraction of the United States. The relative danger of bears and lightning depends a great deal on where you are.

image from

I looked up lightning deaths in areas where there are significant bear populations. What I found was startling. Wyoming is rated as the most dangerous state for lightning deaths, per capita. Wyoming is also one of the top states for fatal bear attacks.

During the decade from 2004-2014, there were two deaths from lightning strikes in Wyoming. During the same period, four people were killed by bears. At least for that decade, for Wyoming, bears were twice as likely to be the cause of death as lightning. The number of people killed by bears has been rising in the last two decades, while the number of people killed by lightning is falling.

Consider Alaska. Lots of bears, and lots of lightning. But Alaska has had zero, zilch, nada people killed by lightning since 1990! During the same period, 1990 to 2014, 16 people were killed by bears in Alaska.  Two more people were killed by bears in Alaska in 2017. I have not found any lightning deaths in Alaska for the period after 2014. In Alaska, people are far more likely to be killed by bears than by lightning.

While looking for bear attack information, and lightning, I came across a site from the National Park Service for Yellowstone National Park. During the period since the park was created, there have been more people killed by bears (eight) than have been killed by lightning (five).  From
Since Yellowstone was established in 1872, eight people have been killed by bears in the park. More people in the park have died from drowning, burns (after falling into hot springs), and suicide than have been killed by bears. To put it in perspective, the probability of being killed by a bear in the park (8 incidents) is only slightly higher than the probability of being killed by a falling tree (6 incidents), in an avalanche (6 incidents), or being struck and killed by lightning (5 incidents).
In most of the United States, there are few bears, and few bear attacks, or people killed by bears. But in areas where there are lots of bears, especially grizzly bears, bears are a much greater risk than lightning, as the data from Alaska, Wyoming, and Yellowstone National Park (quite a bit of overlap with Wyoming) show.

If you are in the woods, and are confronted by a bear, the odds of an attack have increased enormously. The reason bear attacks are rare is because most people spend little time where bears are. In areas where bears are hunted heavily, most bears learn to fear humans. Bears that have lost fear of humans are very dangerous.

If you see a bear, and the bear does not run off, you may be one of the unlucky, statistical, few for whom a bear attack becomes a reality.

©2018 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

Gun Watch 


Karl said...

I've recently read my way through the Joe Pickett series of novels (Author: C.J. Box). Joe Pickett is a game warden in Wyoming.

One theory floated by one of the characters in a recent novel was that bears are being trained not to fear humans. Biologists shoot bears with tranquilizer darts, approach them, fit them with collars, examine them including dental exams, stick their hands in the bears' mouths, and after they leave, the bear is none the worse for the experience. (And even if we're right, and the bear is not aware during the process, it may wake up with the taste and smell of humans in its mouth.)

As a result, bears a coming away with the idea that humans are both harmless and tasty.

Just my 2¢ worth.

Wireless.Phil said...

**FBI agent does a
backflip in a club,
drops his gun and
accidentally shoots
someone, police say

Anonymous said...

The stat that Wyoming has the highest death rate due to lightning is a statistical fluke. Yellowstone and Tetons bring in more than 3 million visitors a year, which is six times the population, since only permanent residents count toward population. Most of those tourists come during lightning season. And most tourists go to the mountains, which is where most lightning strikes occur. So to properly figure per capita lightning deaths, you should add in the tourists.

Wireless.Phil said...

When he went to pick-up his gun, his finger went into the trigger gard and he pulled the trigger.
Here's the video:

Wireless.Phil said...

For example, in what is called "Lightning Alley", an area from Tampa to Orlando, there are as many as 50 strikes per square mile (about 20 per km2) per year. The Empire State Building in New York City is struck by lightning on average 23 times each year, and was once struck 8 times in 24 minutes.