Black bears are beautiful, majestic and – let’s face it – absolutely terrifying animals, especially if you happen to come across one in the wild. While bear attacks usually make you think of grizzly or brown bears, there are exponentially more black bears than brown bears in North America. The United States is home to around 55,000 grizzlies, most of which live in Alaska. However, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Endangered Species, there are nearly 1 million black bears in the country and they have been sighted in 41 states.
Black bears are slightly smaller than brown bears, but they’re no less dangerous, and dozens of people have died from black bear attacks in the past 30 years. Read on to find out which states have the highest number of bear-related deaths.
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Fox News 31 in Colorado reports that half of the country’s recorded bear attacks have occurred in Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Another 33% of the attacks occurred in Alaska. The outlet also reports that 18 people have been killed by bears in Montana since 1990. 25 people died in bear incidents in Alaska during the same period. That’s almost one bear death a year.
Wyoming had 11 bear-related deaths and Colorado had four. Tennessee saw two. Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia have each recorded only one bear death in the past 30 years.
Lynn RogersHowever, PhD, founder of the North American Bear Center and researcher at the Wildlife Research Institute, said people need to put these deaths in context.
“Since 1900, black bears have killed 61 people across North America. I don’t worry anymore, ”she wrote on the North American Bear Center website. “My chances of being killed by domestic dogs, bees or lightning are much greater. My chances of being murdered are 60,000 times higher. One of the safest places a person can stay is in the forest. According to the National Park Service (NPS), your chance of being injured by a bear is about 1 in 2.1 million.
However, if you want to improve your chances of getting out of a bear encounter with all limbs intact, there are a few precautions that bear experts recommend.
“The vast majority of these negative encounters are avoidable. Humans don’t have to go to bear sanctuary and injure themselves, and neither do bears.” Tom Smith, PhD, biologist at Brigham Young University, said National Geographic. “These incidents are largely avoidable, but people need to take on more responsibility.”
Bears are very attracted to smells, so experts recommend that you should be careful about what type of scents you are wearing. Dave Garshelis, PhD, Bear Project Leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said National Geographic that food, deodorant, and even gum can attract bears.
Hikers or others hiking in the forest should always have bear spray with them, a non-lethal aerosol spray designed to disarm bears. The NPS recommends carrying spray in a holster rather than your backpack, where it may be difficult to access. Bear spray doesn’t have to hit the target directly, but the idea is to temporarily create a cloud of spray between you and the bear.
If the bear keeps walking towards you, the NPS says, spray it right on its face. You can buy bear spray at gas stations, national park shops, and camping and outdoor shops. Remember that sprays similar to self-defense sprays do not contain the same active ingredient as bear spray.
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A “disproportionate number” of bear attacks are dog-related, Rogers told ABC News. Dog owners trying to protect their pets from attack or worrying that their pets have been victimized can put themselves at risk.
For example, in 2019 a Minnesota woman was killed by a black bear while vacationing in a remote area of Canada. She had ventured into the woods after hearing her dogs bark. Her dogs eventually returned to the hut, but she didn’t. Authorities said they later found her body with a black bear standing on it.
Garshelis recommends National Geographic that dog owners trying to break up a bear attack arm themselves with a firearm or large stick, “especially if the dog is running back to you for protection.” Bears are also scared away by banging pots and pans and making other loud noises, he added.
Rogers recommends that when you see a bear in the wild, you do everything you can to remain inconspicuous.
“Bears visiting campsites, birdhouses, and trash cans almost never kill people, even though these bears are by far the most contact with humans,” she said.
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