Bear Expert Steve Herrero Says Attacks Are On the Rise

If it feels like more people than usual have been mauled by bears lately (most recently Bellevue City Councilmember John Chelminiak who survived a black bear attack outside his family's cabin near Lake Wenatchee ) that's because its true. "Overall there has been an increase in bear attacks, both for black and grizzly bears, over each of the last five decades," says Steve Herrero, a retired University of Calgary biologist who literally wrote the book on bear attacks in 1988 and continues to track confrontations between humans and the species throughout North America.

Exactly how many bear attacks occur each year in North America is a hard number to pin down, but deaths are tracked closely and helpfully compiled on Wikipedia. In the 1950s, two people lost their lives. The next decade, three people were killed, including two women who were famously mauled to death by grizzlies in one night at Glacier National Park.

In the Nineties the number of bear fatalities reached 22. The next decade it was up to 28. One year into the 2010s there have already been 3 deaths.

Bears mauled their way into the headlines three times in the Northwest this year. In June a black bear bit a man's ear off near St. Regis in western Montana. At the end of July a female grizzly terrorized a campground near Yellowstone, killing Kevin Kammer of Grand Rapids, Mich. And finally there was the Chelminiak attack.

Herrero says the increase in attacks predictably mirrors rising numbers of bears. Why they target people is something of a mystery, he adds. "[The rising attacks] may be due to bears being more food-stressed but no one is researching this."

Overall, Herrero points out, bear attacks are still extremely rare. There are an estimated 900,000 black bears and at least 50,000 grizzlies.

But why take chances. Cleaning up trash and carefully storing food well away from your campsite isn't just good for the environment, it might help you live through the night.

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