Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Investigating Ursus Part 1 (T.o.P. for Christmas)

I’m going to split this one up. Today I just wanted to cover some background about bears (Ursidae) with the emphasis on the American Black Bear (Ursus americanus). Tomorrow I will go more into detail about my encounter on the video. I’ll show some of the pictures I took of my black bear in each though.

This blog entry will be somewhat incomplete and I will add on to it as time goes by or re-edit it altogether. After I had this bear encounter last August I read a bunch of books and articles about bears. Some of my notes are away right now so I can’t quote everything that I was originally going to do. So, this is one of those that I will come back to over time.

To start this, the point I have to make time and again and will make in another blog in the future is that nature does not play by rules. Whenever I go on hikes or encounter a wild animal like this there is a calculated risk involved. While bears are beautiful creatures they are part of “nature’s war” in that their instincts are that of one trying to survive. Under certain circumstances tragedies can happen. 99% of the time things can go right, but that less than 1% of the time is what makes news stories.

That less than 1% of the time is what I want to spend my time on here. There is a lot of junk out there in the news that would make you think we should be afraid of bears and they are ready to attack humans at any moment. There was an article that came out, not too long after I had my bear encounter this year, about a woman hiking in Connecticut, and a bear came up to her leg to sniff her. It was like, “Oh my goodness, she was risking her life by doing that!”

It is actually a really rare thing for a bear to attack. It is possible and it does happen, but not to the extent you see in movies or hear being talked about in the media. I can’t speak for the people that live in densely human populated eastern parts of the U.S. that are in black bear territory, but the bears I have encountered in the High Sierra are rather shy and timid individuals.

A study done Stephen Herrero examined 59 reported black bear attacks that resulted in 63 deaths over 110 years. Most of those attacks were by lone male bears that exhibited predatory behavior. A good portion of those attacks were in Canada and Alaska where humans are less populated in those areas.

Here is the thing with me, I’m more at peace observing bears than I am driving in traffic. Especially when I see people looking at their cell phones in their car at stop lights or while the car is moving. Now if I were constantly in bear territory and encountering more bears my risk of being attacked might increase. As it is, my chances of injury or death is better by dying by another human than by bear attack. Again, bear attacks are possible, but possible doesn’t mean probable or likely when I encounter one. There is a certain level of perspective or context needs to be understood when talking about bear attacks.

One issue that comes up in the study and one that I didn't completely realize until recent years is that black bear mothers typically don’t defend their cubs by attacking humans. That is something a grizzly bear would do, but not black bears. Black bear mothers like to send their cubs up a tree and then have them come down when the coast is clear.

The distinction between how a grizzly bear and black bear respond is important because they don’t behave in the same ways. People tend to confuse the two. A black bear might be aggressive and actually do a short charge at you, but that is typically a case of trying to get you to go away and not an attack. It is more defensive than in attack mode. Sometimes you hear people say don’t run from a bear. Well, you might find out that the black bear was running away from you too. On the other hand, grizzly bear defensive behavior is different and can lead to fatal attacks. In the literature, it’s the lone stealthy predatory black bear that will attempt to ambush that is the real concern.

Most bears avoid humans and really are concerned about scavenging for food. That ends up being the real issue because they typically go through trash and are willing to take what we might consider extraordinary risks to get at some food source. I've heard many tales of attempts or successes of breaking into a home or vehicle being broken into at a trail head by a bear. This is why it is important to be sure everything is packed up in a container that they can’t get into.

The final thing I should mention here is what I said above I would say slightly differently to younger people and little kids. Younger people should be taught a healthy fear of ALL wild animals.  

My video:

I’ll list more book resources and links at a later time. Anything by Stephen Herrero is worth reading or watching. Really, there is a lot out there on bears and all you need to do is Google "bears" or "black bears" and you get a lot of things.

This is a good article to read:

Short article on Predatory black bears: