The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife’s record of bear encounters lists 14 cases in which a person was injured and one death. Nationally, hornets, wasps and bees were responsible for 28% of animal-caused deaths, and dogs about 14%.
Somehow, amid a coup in Turkey, a terrorist attack in Nice and the GOP convention in Cleveland, the second most read story on our site in the past week was a story from Alaska: “How to discourage an attack when you meet a bear in the wild.” It has been viewed almost 49,000 times since being posted July 13.
It’s an interesting topic, no doubt, and the story contains good advice for backcountry travelers.
But a bit of local context might help you relax, if just for a bit.
The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife’s record of bear encounters lists only 14 cases in which someone was injured and one death, according to figures provided by Rich Beausoleil, a bear and cougar specialist with the agency.
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Some encounters can hardly be considered attacks. In many cases, the bear wasn’t the initial aggressor.
Six times, hunters were injured after shooting a bear and approaching it, believing it was dead. Obviously, they were mistaken.
In six other instances, man’s best friend got man in trouble. Off-leash dogs chased the scent of a bear, found said bear, and were chased back to their unsuspecting owners.
Three encounters are considered surprises.
In 1974, a 4-year-old girl was mauled and killed by a 250-pound bear in Glenwood, Klickitat County. Her father shot and killed the animal.
In 1995, a bear attacked a 14-year-old girl near Sultan, unprovoked. She screamed and fell while backing away from it. The bear bit her thigh and ankle and took off. Wildlife agents later killed the bear.
In 2010, John Chelminiak, now Bellevue’s deputy mayor, was walking his leashed dogs when a 150-pound black bear assailed him. Chelminiak lost an eye in the attack.
Washington has an estimated 25,000-30,000 bears, said Anis Aoude, who is in charge of carnivores for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Nearly all are black bears, though there is a small population of endangered grizzlies in the Selkirk Mountains. In 2010, a grizzly was seen in the North Cascades for the first time in more than 40 years, but it’s not clear how many live there. Federal officials are considering reintroducing grizzlies to the Cascades.
Aoude said confrontations are rare, and unless you surprise a bear or run into a female with cubs, they’re not likely to start a fight.
“If you’re doing the right thing camping or hiking in the outdoors, you shouldn’t have issues with bears,” Aoude said. Keep a clean camp, cook 100 yards from camp, hike in groups and keep children close on the trail, he advised. Leashes are key for curious canines.
Bears love bird feeders and garbage, Aoude said. Keeping food out of reach goes a long way toward avoiding them.
Should that fail: “If you are attacked by a bear, you should always fight back aggressively,” he said, echoing the earlier article’s advice for black-bear attacks.
In addition to bears, Aoude said people ought to be aware of moose, wolves and cougars, which round out what the department considers Washington’s dangerous wildlife.
About 3,000 moose call Washington home.
Just as with bears, don’t get in between a mother moose and her baby, Aoude said. “A moose will put its ears down if they’re being aggressive,” he said. “If you come in contact with a moose … yell and scream. Hopefully they’ll run away.”
There are about 2,000-3,000 cougars in Washington, though Aoude said they’re particularly difficult to count because cougars keep to themselves.
They live anywhere there are deer. “That’s their main prey base,” Aoude said, adding that to avoid cougars, it’s probably not a good idea to feed deer.
Aoude said cougars like to stalk and ambush prey. Keep children close on trails, he said, and keep conversation chirping among your group.
If you should come face to face with a cougar, don’t run. Instinct demands they chase. Instead, make yourself bigger, make a racket and try to convince the animal you’re a threat.
The same tactics apply to wolves, which number less than 100 and are the subject of public debate about their resurgence in the state.
Aoude said any animal can be dangerous. “Even deer can attack people,” he said. Wild creatures need their space.
“When you’re out there if you want to avoid these things, give them plenty of room. Try to avoid the confrontation. They’re not seeking out humans; they just see us as a predator,” he said.
Perhaps the folks worrying about bear attacks ought to shift their focus from claws and teeth to stingers: Hornets, wasps and bees were responsible for more than 28 percent of deaths caused by animals from 1999-2007, according to an examination of nine years of Centers for Disease Control data.
Dogs were responsible for nearly 14 percent of animal deaths during that same period.
And if bear attacks still have you anxious, you can always camp in your living room instead and watch them from afar as they chomp on salmon in Alaska. That option is just a live internet stream away.