Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Flurry of Bear Attacks, Fall, 2018

Photo by Troy Nemitz

It is the season for bear attacks. Bears are very active in the fall, when they must accumulate enough calories to lard up for hibernation. At the same time, human hunters are out and about, hunting all game animals, putting human hunters in the same areas with heavy bear populations.

In the last month, there have been several bear attacks in the news.

On 9 September, Dr. Brad Johnson was attacked and severely mauled. He had bear spray in his hand.  He was attacked by two bears and was not able to use the spray. He almost died. His two companions saved his life with first aid. The bears were never pursued or found. They are thought to have been grizzly bears.

On 14 September, bow hunter Corey Chubon and Guide Mark Uptain were attacked as they processed a trophy elk in Wyoming. Chubon was mauled and Mark Uptain was killed. Bear spray proved ineffective. A Glock pistol was not used because it was yards away, and Chubon did not know how to use it.

On 24 September a bow hunter who bagged a moose on the Blackfeet Indian reservation in Montana used a pistol to stop a grizzly bear attack there.

On 26 September, a bow hunter successfully used a pistol to defend himself a sow grizzly bear and a grown cub in Montana.

On 29 September, a Tye Carlson, a bear hunter, was mauled by a 350 pound boar black bear in northern Wisconsin. Dogs that were pursuing the bear arrived. Carlson was able to retrieve his firearm and shoot the bear. The bear attacked Carlson again, until another hunter arrived and finished off the bear.

On 1 October, 18-year-old Anthony Montoya was killed by a grizzly sow and two nearly grown cubs, near the Hecla Greens Creek Mine in southern Alaska. Montoya reportedly had bear spray, but it was not found at the scene. The three grizzlys were killed at the remote site by Montoya's companions. The bears had fed on Montoya's body, only 35 yards from the group of people he was with. The drill site is reported to be noisy. The forest can be extremely dense in southern Alaska.

On 2 October, a hunting guide shot a bear that was charging three hunters and their horses. The bear attack occurred on the South Fork of the Shoshone River in northern Wyoming.

Bear attacks are relatively rare, but in bear country, they are more common than being hit by lightning.

Over the last 40 years, the bear population, both grizzly and black bears, has soared in the United States. As the bear population has increased, so have bear attacks.

Grizzly bears have a high incident of attacks on humans and their property, considering their limited numbers.

Grizzly bears have been strictly protected for the last 43 years in the lower 48 states. Black bears are many times as numerous as grizzly bears. Estimates for grizzly bears in the lower 48 are about 1,500. Black bears are about 450,000.

Both numbers are imprecise, but there are about 300 black bears for every grizzly in the lower 48. There are about the same number of fatal bear attacks for black bears and grizzly bears. Black bears are legally hunted in most states where they are found.

If you see a bear, and it does not run from you, consider yourself at risk. Most black bear attacks are predatory attacks, where the bear sees humans as a potential food source.  In predatory black bear attacks, humans often see the bear with plenty of time to access weapons and defend themselves, if they have a weapon available.

Grizzly bears are such aggressive top-end predators they should always be seen as high risk.  A majority of grizzly attacks do not appear to be predatory, but involve aggressive attacks over territory, food supplies, cubs or other reasons.  Grizzly bears do not need a human rational to attack.

While bear spray has been touted as the best way to stop bear attacks, the common comparisons from studies of bear spray and firearm defenses are not legitimate science. Different criteria are used in the different studies. The authors refuse to release the data the studies are based on. There have been notable failures of both firearms and bear spray.

Surprisingly, pistols have been used to stop bear attacks with considerable success.

There are reasons people prefer bear spray to pistols. People who are not familiar with firearms, for example, are better off with bear spay than without any defense. There are places pistols are forbidden for most people to carry, by law, such as Canada, California, or New Jersey.  There are plenty of bears in all three places.

The primary reason to prefer bear spray is to prevent bears from being killed.

The problem with this approach is a bear that shows little fear of humans has shown itself to be a much higher risk to people than most bears.  As a matter of policy, bears that lack fear of people should be (and mostly are) killed.

The relatively small number of bears killed as threats to humans has no significant effect on bear populations.

Even the extreme number of aggressive grizzly bears killed to protect people in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), (35, or about 5% in 2017) has not prevented the grizzly population from expanding.

Bear populations have to be limited to prevent unacceptable levels of risk to humans and human property. The only question is: what level of bear populations are acceptable?

Bears will not limit their own populations. Bear populations will expand as long as there is a sufficient food supply and habitat. That food supply includes human crops, human livestock, and (rarely, in the last hundred years) humans.

People who do not live with bears are willing to accept much higher bear populations than people who do.

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

Gun Watch 

1 comment:

Dave in CO said...

Here's another published in the local paper 10/15. It seems that, luckily, bear spray was effective. Luckily, because both hunters also got hit by it and were out of action for 5 minutes or so. The sow could have easily dealt with them if she hadn't run off.