May 10, 2011 at 10:10 pm #1273634
A few surprises in decades-long black bear study
By RENATA D'ALIESIO
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Attacks happened mainly in Canada and nearly always involved lone males, not sows protecting cubs
A sweeping study chronicling more than a century's worth of deadly encounters with black bears in Canada and the United States is shedding new light on the nature of attacks and dispelling the widely held notion that a sow protecting her cubs is the prime danger.
Fatal black bear attacks were rare from 1900 to 2009 but they disproportionately occurred in Canada, according to an analysis published Wednesday in the Journal of Wildlife Management. Of the 63 people who died in 59 incidents, 44 victims were mauled in Canada. It's not known why, but periodic food shortages due to shorter growing seasons could be a factor.
Researchers also found that the vast majority of the confrontations weren't the result of chance meetings in the woods, but the outcome of predatory behaviour, nearly always by lone male black bears. Surprisingly, only 8 per cent of the deadly attacks were attributed to mother bears.
Even the world's foremost bear-attack expert, study leader Stephen Herrero, was taken aback by this finding. A professor emeritus at the University of Calgary, Dr. Herrero noted sows will huff loudly, swat the ground and sometimes charge when protecting their young.
"But almost never do they follow through and contact the person," he said. "If they do, they don't take it to the point of trying to kill and eat the person."
Dr. Herrero's examination of black bear attacks offers the most comprehensive look yet at where and why the animals have killed in North America. The study took decades to complete and involved the Massachusetts division of fisheries and wildlife and Brigham Young University in Utah.
Bear-caused fatalities have increased largely in lockstep with the continent's human population growth and subsequent rise of recreational activities. Most of the deadly encounters with bears – 86 per cent – were recorded since 1960.
Nine out of 10 times, the victim was alone or with only one other person. Improperly stored food and garbage was a likely attractant in 38 per cent of the incidents, but there was no evidence a black bear killed to protect a carcass, which has occurred with grizzly bears. In all cases, researchers found that bear pepper spray was not deployed as a measure of defence.
While deadly attacks are not common, recent studies have shown conflicts between humans and black bears are on the rise in many regions of North America. Dr. Herrero said his study underscores the importance of dealing with bears that exhibit predatory behaviour, such as stalking, and warning the public about potential threats.
Many provinces have been promoting education programs and mitigation measures in communities that lie in the heart of bear country. Installing bear-proof trash bins and discouraging bird feeders are some of the deterrents adopted in Revelstoke in the B.C. Rockies.
Some hunters in Ontario believe the province should reinstate the spring black bear hunt to reduce the animal's population and run-ins with people, particularly in northern cottage country. The spring hunt was cancelled in 1999; a fall hunt remains.
"From a public safety standpoint, black bears are an unpredictable, wild animal," said John Kaplanis, executive director of the Northwestern Ontario Sportsmen's Alliance. "They're not the cuddly little teddy bears we see on television and in Walt Disney shows."
But the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources has no plans to reinstate the hunt, said Linda Wall, provincial co-ordinator of the department's Bear Wise program. The province, with an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 black bears, has been tracking incidents since 2004.
Provincial data show reports of human-bear occurrences, which range from sightings to contacts, fluctuate in large part with the availability of food in the wild. Ill-timed frost and a poor berry season can make the difference, Ms. Wall said. There were 7,016 incidents in 2006, when berries were plentiful, but 13,010 incidents in 2009, when significant natural food failures were observed in the Parry Sound area.
"As soon as the bears have trouble finding food in the forest, they will come out looking for food," Ms. Wall said.
HOW TO AVOID ENCOUNTERING A BLACK BEAR
Make noise when you're in the woods, especially when visibility is restricted or when there's a lot of background noise, such as from a stream or waterfall. Singing, whistling or talking will let bears know you're there and give them a chance to avoid you. Travel with at least two people, and watch for signs of bear activity, such as tracks, claw marks on trees and fresh droppings. If you have a dog, leash it. Wandering dogs could lead a bear to you.
What to do if you run into a black bear
Stay calm. When black bears are caught off guard, they're stressed and usually just want to flee. The bear may stand on its hind legs to get a better look at you. The animal may also salivate excessively, exhale loudly and make popping sounds with its teeth and jaws. Generally, these aren't bad signs: Noisier bears tend to be less dangerous, but don't get closer. Stand still and talk calmly to the bear. If the animal doesn't approach, back away slowly and keep chatting in a quiet, monotone voice. Resist the temptation to run, and don't scream, turn your back on the bear, kneel down or make direct eye contact.
What to do if the bear approaches
Yell and wave your arms to make yourself look bigger. Throw objects at the bear, such as sticks and rocks. Blow a whistle or an air horn, if you have them. These actions may persuade the bear to leave. If you're with others, stay together and make sure the bear has an escape route. If the animal keeps advancing toward you, stand your ground and use bear pepper spray. Black bear attacks are extremely rare. However, when a bear strikes, fight back with everything you have. Don't play dead except in the rare instance a sow is attacking to defend her cubs.
Source: Ontario Ministry of Natural ResourcesMay 10, 2011 at 11:14 pm #1735255
@b-g-2-2Locale: Silicon Valley
They ought to get some mellow California black bears and breed them with those bad ones from B.C. and Ontario.
–B.G.–May 10, 2011 at 11:20 pm #1735256
@chrismorganLocale: Southern Oregon
Those Ontario/Quebec numbers surprise me the most. Never realized the population was so large up that way.
And just as I was thinking about doing a very beary enchanted valley trip next week…May 11, 2011 at 11:26 am #1735402
I read Stephen Herrero's bear attack book after the first time I ran into a couple of black bear years ago even though nothing happened. What surprised me was they did not run away. Since then, mostly I've run into black bears that quickly run off. My son and I once ran into one that sat and watched us for a while as we yelled. The started scratching its back and looked real laid back. So we just hiked on and the bear did not follow us.
My closest encounter was literally face to face. Was in my Contrail looking up at the closed vestibule and the silouette of a bug crawling on the outside. I heard "footsteps" and then I see the silouette of bear pushing its nose down on the vestibule. I spun around. The sound of the pad, etc. must have scared the bear. I heard pawsteps running away really fast. By the time I unzipped the screen and got out, there were only tracks.
I'm no bear expert but have had enough experience with them to believe that all bears are not the same. Based on the previous research and the new report, the statistics continue to show that attacks are rare. For all of us, it is a measured risk we take to when we go to places were wild creatures still roam.May 11, 2011 at 12:15 pm #1735432
@gregfLocale: Canadian Rockies
Just remember over the same time period more people die driving to go hiking then bears. In fact on just the highway between Calgary and Banff there is at least 1 fatality a year compared to 7 black bear fatalities since 1909 or really the majority since 1960.
It is such a non-risk that can most of the time be mitigated. Hypothermia and getting lost are far greater risks. The sensationalist paper in Calgary today had a big picture of a Black bear bearing its teeth and the headline in huge font "What you don't know about Black bears".
I appreciate the study but the media ruins any rational response that the uneducated masses might take.May 11, 2011 at 12:19 pm #1735435
"Feeding Bears" is listed as an 'activity' in the chart above. Don't feed the bears.May 11, 2011 at 4:01 pm #1735519
I wonder how many Human inflicted Black Bear fatalities there were between 1900-2009…
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