Showing posts with label Alaska. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alaska. Show all posts

June 25, 2018

Some Facts and Figures on Bear Attacks

Rarely, black bears become predatory too (Science Daily).
If I never hear again that joke whose punch line includes, "grizzly bear shit has bells in it," I will be a happier person thereby.

Alaska journalist Craig Medred offers some facts and figures on bear attacks — based on Alaska data, of course, but worth nothing anywhere.
“As of 2015, 75 instances of bear spray use were recorded (in Alaska) of which 70 (93.3 percent) were successful in altering bears’ aggressive behavior whereas five (6.7 percent) were not,” [Brigham Young University professor Tom] Smith and [noted Canadian bear researcher Stephen] Herrero write.

“However, of the 197 persons involved in those 75 encounters only four received slight injuries (2 percent) – all inflicted by grizzly bears.”

There is a significant likelihood, the scientists add, that the spray worked on a lot more bears than are in the study. Smith and Herrero says information on bear attacks, which involve people being injured by a bear, is limited, and information on incidents, in which people are involved in non-injury incidents, even more so.

“Unquestionably,” they write, “many incidents go unreported for a variety of reasons. It is believed that many human-bear interactions resolve peacefully, are not newsworthy, and therefore underreported. This (also) includes times when persons successfully dispatch a bear with a firearm.”
And this:
Lifestyle changes are clearly reflected in the data, too.  Since 1980, attacks on joggers went up nineteen fold from one to 19, and those on cyclists grew five fold from one to five.
“None of these joggers or bicyclists [was] carrying a bear deterrent, and we believe that contributed to the outcome,” the study added.

Hikers and hunters remain far and away the largest category of people attacked by bears. Attacks on hunters have been going down, though, with attacks on hikers going up, probably representative of another lifestyle change.
And then there is the whole issue of dogs and bears, with which I have had a little experience. You should read the whole thing.

July 01, 2017

An Alaskan Speaks about Bear Spray

Bear spray canisters and holsters
(Udap brand).
A spate of incidents in Alaska (and the Northern Rockies) have some people asking, "Does bear spray work?"

Alaska news-blogger Craig Medred has posted on this repeatedly. The main issue seems to be that minority of black bears (not griz) who turn predator, but grizzlies are always of concern as well.
Twenty-seven-year-old Erin Johnson from Anchorage died June 19 after she and a coworker were attacked by a predatory black bear while doing environmental studies in brushy forest about five miles from the state’s largest underground gold mine. . .
Sean Farley, a bear researcher and wildlife physiologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, emphasized that bear spray has proven hugely effective on charging bears, especially charging grizzlies.

But he noted the physical state of those bears. They charge with eyes wide open, nostrils flaring and often huffing air into their lungs. They are fully exposed to the active ingredient in the spray – oleoresin capsicum, an oily extract from the pepper plant.
Unlike tear gas, which appears to work poorly on bears, capsicum causes more than just irritation to the eyes. Inhaled, it inflames airways making it temporarily harder to breathe and from what is known about research on humans, it might do even more than that.

A charging grizzly is likely to get a big dose of capsicum. That is not necessarily the case for a predatory bear. . . . Farley describes predatory bears as approaching with eyes squinting, mouths shut and  nostrils narrowed. They come in like bears approaching beehives ready to suffer a bit to get the food they want. Their physical preparations would serve to minimize the dose of spray hitting the bear.
The post goes on to talk about risk-assessment: "Statistically, you are orders of magnitude more likely to die in a motor vehicle or boating accident in Alaska than to be attacked by a bear, let alone killed by one." But fear of bears is more primal than fear of motorboats.

And there is speculation on the changing nature of predators world-wide. Read it all.

The big about bears approaching beehives reminded me of when my late brother-in-law was raising hogs on his farm in southeastern Missouri. His was a small operation, maybe a dozen or so at a time, partly for the family and partly for sale.

He told me about one particular hog that would bust through an electric fence. The pig knew that it would get shocked, so it started squealing before it hit the fence, but it still wanted to break through more than it did not want to be shocked. There is no reason why some bear might not take the same attitude toward bear spray.

I still carry it at appropriate times, however. It also works well on overly aggressive dogs. And I see that Medred still carries it too.

October 22, 2016

Linkage into the Wild


Other linkage:

¶ Alaska writer Craig Medred proposes some cures for "bus madness," in other words, the pilgrims and wannabes who turn the abandoned bus where Chris "Supertramp" McCandless died into a destination — and who often have to be rescued at public expense.

A sample:
Ransom the Bus: Americans, or at least some of them, seem to think there’s something mythical, mystical, magic, marvelous, mad or some other m-word about visiting a bus where some poor, foolish young man sadly starved to death. Let them pay to keep their shrine out there. Put out a press release warning that the cash-strapped state of Alaska cannot afford further rescues, and unless people contribute $500,000 this year to save the bus it will be blown up as public nuisance. Let America start a GoFundTheBus campaign.
¶ A new cultural history of the Great Plains for that mythical creature, the general reader: Great Plains Indians by historical geographer David Wishart. It's part of a new series from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, "Discover the Great Plains."


A retrospective of setter and pointer dogs in advertising art. That is not two different appreviations for "Colorado," but rather Delta County and the town of Cedaredge.

February 08, 2015

How Not To Become Prey

Bears biting backpackers. Mountain lions munching mountain bikers.

Every time that some carnivorous critter bites or kills a human, there will be voices proclaiming, "They were here first. We live on their territory."

That is true in a long historical view —  and it is also true that human populations have lived alongside big carnivores throughout history — but Wyoming writer Cat Urbigkit's new book, When Man Becomes Prey: Fatal Encounters with America's Most Feared Predators, adds some nuance and some new information.

Her book is divided into species-specific chapters
  • Black bears
  • Coyotes
  • Gray wolves
  • Mountain lions
  • Grizzly nightmares
  • Greater Yellowstone grizzlies
plus two more, "Habituation and Alaska Attacks" and "Learning to Coexist with Predators."

Each chapter begins with some narratives, the kind that you want to read in the daytime with a clear view of your surroundings. They then cover relevant scientific research and practical ways to avoid conflict with bears, mountain lions, or whatever. "For some hikers [in coyote habitat] rocks-in-pockets becomes a routine at the start of every hike."

For instance, I was raised to believe that while they were a threat to dogs and cats, coyotes left adult-size humans alone. Urbigkit leads with the 2009 killing of Taylor Mitchell in Cape Breton Highlands National Park by a small pack of three coyotes — all healthy. "Wildlife officials suspected that these coyotes had become habituated to humans during the tourist season, and this may have involved the animals receiving food rewards from humans." (There have been other attacks on children and adults , but she was the only recorded adult human fatality.)

Attacks on pets, even leashed dogs with people, are also increasing. Geographically, coyote attacks seem most common in parks, where no hunting is allowed, and into urban areas, again without hunting and with a variety of food resources.

A certain degree of hunting, she suggests, does encourage predators to stay away from people. Yet with mountain lions, for instance, "wildlife managers believe that when heavy localized hunting results in the harvest of older mature males, more young mountain lions are likely to disperse into those areas, creating an increase in [lion-human] conflicts."

Some other take-aways:

• While people think that black bear sows with cubs are the most dangerous, "the majority of the fatal attacks on humans involved male bears, and most attacks took place during the daylight hours." While most black bears are shy, some do prey on humans deliberately. Also, "no one killed in a black bear attack carried bear spray."

• Urbigkit, who lives on a sheep ranch south of Grand Teton National Park, believes in bear spray: "You don't have to be an excellent shot to be effective with a can of bear spray — a cloud of spray between you and a charging bear should be enough for your immediate retreat from the area."

She also offers a case where bear spray stopped an attacking mountain lion. I myself have used it only on aggressive dogs, where it worked well, so I suspect that it would work just as well on a wolf or coyote.

• There are no documented cases of black bears attacking humans in defense of a carcass, but as Northern Rockies hunters are learning, grizzlies, where present have done that a number of times.

• The old idea, from books like Jim Corbett's Man-Eaters of Kumaon (1944), is that the predators who attack humans are usually elderly, crippled, or wounded. With grizzly bears, that is sometimes true, Urbigkit writes. But there also more North American predators than there used to be, thanks to recovery programs and more-regulated hunting. In addition, we have created such predator-friendly places as parks and food-rich subdivisions.

Consequently, they become habituated to us — and we become habituated to them, sometimes forgetting that they "are not loveable toys to be enjoyed when convenient [Yellowstone wolf tours?] and then discarded or destroyed when they reveal their true natures.

"Predators should be treated with a realistic acknowledgment that they are animals that kill prey to survive, and should be respected for the wild creatures that they are."

Any backcountry hiker or hunter, anyone who visits parks like Yellowstone or Great Smokies, and anyone who sees bears, coyotes, or deer in their neighborhoods — where there are deer, there are lions — ought to read When Man Becomes Prey.

It is available from the publisher, Lyons Press, or from the usual online source.

September 17, 2014

A Quick Journey to Fungal Paradise

The Anchorage-Seward train running past Kenai Lake
Semi-free range mycophiles
Just back from Anchorage, a trip that was part work and part pleasure. Alaska is outside the remit of this blog, but I wanted to record a few images none the less.

The train photo is from the Coastal Classic train, almost purely a tourist train, where the engineer slows way down when the onboard guide announces a moose or bear sighting. The water is Kenai Lake.

My hosts are extraordinary urban foragers, and their 8-year-old son celebrated his birthday by inviting some of his friends to go mushroom hunting, which is to say that some hunted mushrooms (none knew as much as he already does) while others just ran around waving sticks, but it was all good. Afterwards, ice cream.

Some of the moms and dads were there too, to keep an eye on the kids and watch out for free-range moose. But actually, when the boy and I went geocaching in another of Anchorage's large and mostly wild city parks, it was he who spotted the moose while I was busy looking at the GPS receiver!

I was seeing mushrooms that I knew only from books, and there were countless other colorful fungi to photograph and marvel at.

Coming home, the 737's overhead bins were full of fishing rod cases, and yes, I was a little envious, but at least I had a bag of Alaska gold (Phaeolepiota aurea) in my suitcase.
Delicate, lovely, don't know what it is.
Young Alaska gold mushroom, Phaeolepiota aurea. See also the red box that the boy is holding.

September 14, 2014

Forest Divination

Kincaid Park, Anchorage (Photo taken today.)
The Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department is so good that they know what the bears will be doing next year.