Denali Bad News

12:24 a.m. on August 26, 2012 (EDT)
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Looks like a backpacker was killed by a male grizzly in Denali:


Looks like the investigation continues.

11:55 a.m. on August 26, 2012 (EDT)
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Sad news indeed, and what makes it so is that it sounds like this could have easily been avoided.

He apparantely photographed the bear for at least 8 minutes and got fairly close (50 yards at least it says).

All speculation at this point. But I assume he got too close to the bear and it triggered a defensive/territorial attack.

They have these safety rules and awareness programs for a reason, the bears 'can' be dangerous and demand your respect. Lose that respect for them, and you can pay with the ultimate price.

Very sad, but hopefully others can learn from this tragic incident.


12:51 p.m. on August 26, 2012 (EDT)
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The guy f'ed up and he and the bear are dead.  It is remarkable to hear that 1917 was the last fatality in Denali.  That is beyond impressive.  People watch films or visit places like Katmai NP and get confused about how to behave around bears.

2:25 p.m. on August 26, 2012 (EDT)
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You go out in the woods and accept that accidents can happen.  A bear attack is no different in my mind than a car wreck on a highway.  When someone dies on a road do will bulldoze up the pavement or shoot the other drivers?  So why kill the bear?  It goes with the turf.  Suppose a tree falls on a man, do we cut down all the trees?  Maybe he dies of hypothermia, do we shoot guns off into the cold night sky?

In the 1850's there used to be 100,000 grizzlies in the lower 48, now there are 700.  World wide there are 150,000 grizzlies.  There are 7 billion humans.  The numbers don't make sense.

4:22 p.m. on August 26, 2012 (EDT)
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50m or a 1/4 mile sounds like the bear was the victim here.

9:52 p.m. on August 26, 2012 (EDT)
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The bear didn't just kill the man because the bear was startled or frightened; he killed the human for food and was seen snacking on him. There is a longstanding belief that once a large predator tastes man, he will determine that humans are an easy to kill food source. And such a predator is usually correct. Hence, we kill "man-eaters".

Maybe we are really tasty? Maybe no bear can eat just one.

10:28 p.m. on August 26, 2012 (EDT)
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overmywaders said:

There is a longstanding belief that once a large predator tastes man, he will determine that humans are an easy to kill food source.

"There is a longstanding belief..."

Held by whom? I assume you believe it, but I don't know anyone else who deals with grizzlies that does. Sounds very much like one of those 'everybody knows that...', or 'common sense tells us...'.

Bears eat just about everything. In the world of zoology, they're called 'protein opportunists', which means that they will eat any person, fish, animal, bug or bird that happens to be handy.

Preferably dead, and preferably well-rotted. Have you ever come across a bear's cache of food in the forest?

Most of their diet is vegetable though, and one juicy animal is a lot better source of calories than the 200,000-250,000 buffalo berries they have to eat every day in the fall to get ready for winter.

Tipi's explanation makes a lot more sense to me, and tallies with my training and experience. Grizzlies are territorial. If you intrude into their space, especially in a challenging way like this guy did, they'll either chase you off or kill you. (See 'Timothy Treadwell') And if you're already dead, it would be really dumb of them NOT to eat you.

11:17 p.m. on August 26, 2012 (EDT)
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All bears are generally busy during this time of the year fattening up for the long winter ahead. The bear was opportunistic when it recognized a food source and decided to take advantage of it. Granted, the fellow violated the park's established rules in regards to human/bear interactions. Unfortunate as it may be, the decision to kill the bear was made because it became a "man eater". Was it the right decision? I'm not qualified to answer that but it will make the deceased's family and other visitors to Denali "feel better" knowing a bear with predatory behavior had been located and killed. On the other hand, if all bears deemed to be man eaters are going to be eliminated, then why not pre-emptively kill all polar bears, because, as far as the polar bear is concerned, we are on their "shopping list" of tasty edibles.

7:18 a.m. on August 27, 2012 (EDT)
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I used the term "longstanding belief" because I don't know that any scientific evidence supports the claim. 

I certainly understand that in our litigious society, the Park Service would want to err on the side of caution and kill the bear. In the same way, the ASPCA will not put up a dog for adoption which has once bitten a stranger, they will kill the dog. Do they do this because they are convinced that the dog will bite again? No, they do it because of the legal doctrine of "strict liability."

The keeper of domesticated animals, which include dogs, cats, cattle, sheep, and horses, is strictly liable for the harm they cause only if the keeper had actual knowledge that the animal had the particular trait or propensity that caused the harm. The trait must be a potentially harmful one, and the harm must correspond to the knowledge.

If you want to stop the killing of bears such as the grizzly under discussion, you must first overturn the legal doctrine of strict liability, and that is very unlikely.



7:42 a.m. on August 27, 2012 (EDT)
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Unfortunate and tragic.  It's a risk when people and bear interact.

I have to believe that US Park Service guidance encourages people to keep more distance.  An adult male grizzly can run 30 miles per hour; that's 13 meters per second.  Shooting photos from 50 meters away means the bear could have been on top of this guy in less than five seconds.  Grabbing and effectively using bear spray or a firearm under those circumstances would be a challenge.  

8:58 a.m. on August 27, 2012 (EDT)
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leadbelly2550 said:

It's a risk when people and bear interact..  

 Sometimes... Then there are those times where it is beneficial(to the bear. :)

9:20 a.m. on August 27, 2012 (EDT)
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I keep seeing these movies and shows about men that lives with bear, like Timothy Treadwell and Charles Vandergaw. These shows keep insinuating that bear are harmless and wont attack you unless you do something to them, then saying bears are dangerous and shouldn't be approached while showing some dude living with them for multiple years and handling them.  Sometimes I wonder if these people that go hiking, get too close and gets killed by a bear maybe have seen some of those documentaries and think they have enough knowledge (or stupidity) to go and approach a bear, or stand closer than suggested, because they've seen someone do it on TV.  I've had multiple bear encounters while backpacking, some from close some from far, none of which I decided I was safe enough to put my bear spray away and take a picture. I fear and respect bears, and pitty those who don't.

11:28 a.m. on August 27, 2012 (EDT)
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It is horrible this man lost his life, and I feel so badly for his family. Unfortunately, it seems he brought it on himself. 

Respect, admiration, and "fear," are primary and inseparable in my regard for bears. I do not ascribe to either "they're dangerous, kill 'em," or "The wild is their territory, not ours, and it serves us right" positions. From a Naturalism perspective, we are every bit a part of the natural order of things, and belong in nature wherever our evolved physical attributes allow us to be. From a theistic point of view, we are to have compassion for all creatures and be the most honorable and responsible stewards and conservatists possible. 

Fortunately, both Black and Brown Bear populations are increasing, and forested land across the country has been increasing since the turn of the 19th Century. There are hundreds of thousands of miles of forest now, if not millions, that didn't exist then. According to all sources I could find there are upwards of 60,000 Brown bears in North America.  1500- 2000 of of those reside in 48, and their numbers are increasing steadily. There are more Black bears now in North America than estimated numbers before colonization. Current estimates are between 600,000 and one million, roughly 1/3 to 1/2 of which reside in the lower 48. 

Whether a bear becomes a "man eater," I doubt they acquire a "taste" for "man blood," as it were. However, bears acquiring, repeating, and passing on food source association is a clearly observed behavior. Once a bear is permitted access to a food source, whether garbage cans, careless campers, etc., there is a definite behavioral change in which that bear clearly regards that new thing as a source to be actively sought out. This behavior is also clearly passed on to offspring through introduction, and arguably to other adults as well.   To think the same change in perception (to people as easy food source) would not and does not happen is completely ridiculous.   

The attacks a year or two ago in yellowstone by a mother and her cubs is direct evidence of this. They went from one campsite to another, over a large area, attacking the sleeping people in their tents. They went directly after the people, not their food. However rare and shocking that was, what it illustrates is profound. 

I think the bottom line is to respect them and be smart. 

12:38 p.m. on August 27, 2012 (EDT)
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Bears are higher on the food chain than humans. You don't go swimming with sharks and expect not to be eaten. You don't run with lions and have some expectation of ending up lunch. That is why they are called wild animals.

As for shooting the bear. I can see where that might be a good idea for rangers. Lawyers that got a hold of that may bankrupt the state. I don't like the fact the world is run by lawyers but that is the world we live in.

11:34 a.m. on August 28, 2012 (EDT)
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Okay, to the dude that doesn't seem to understand the basics of American Folklore. Culturally Americans are rather ill informed when it comes to nature matters. Common questions asked at the entrance of Rocky Mtn. National Park. When do deer turn into elk, where are the animals kept in the winter time? We laugh at this but it is a very true statement. The belief that once a bear has tasted human is an old wives tale, but movies such as The Edge, Hopkins and Baldwin, perpetuate the myth. And not to say that the myth is unfounded. If a domestic dog gets into a chicken coop and kills some of the chickens a farmer puts it down, because the dog will continue to go back, not necessarily to eat the chickens but to kill for sport. The same principle applies to dogs that have killed goats. 

As for bears, the largest grizzly on record was found to have the remains of five different humans in its stomach as they were cleaning the carcass.

So maybe the old wives tail has a little credit to it after all.

2:32 p.m. on August 28, 2012 (EDT)
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You've been flim-flammed. See

The bear was smaller, not charging, and contained no evidence of feeding on humans.

But, that doesn't alter the fact that once a top-tier predator finds how easy humans are to kill, the potential for future meals of homo sapien increase. Think Tsavo lions -

5:41 p.m. on August 30, 2012 (EDT)
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I am just glad that out here in my neck of the woods we don't have any bears. one less thing to worry about.still it pays to be bear savvy and not do anything stupid to get yourself killed. going to see the bears in denali when they're all hungry is stupid, imo. nothing says free lunch better than an unarmed human at close range.

4:47 p.m. on August 31, 2012 (EDT)
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Where do you hike, Trailjester? There are black bears in an awful lot of North America!

8:54 p.m. on September 1, 2012 (EDT)
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Thanks for an informative post on a difficult topic.

3:57 p.m. on September 2, 2012 (EDT)
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Black or brown they both bite

5:24 p.m. on September 2, 2012 (EDT)
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I hike in san diego county, CA in the san jacinto wilderness, san jacinto state park, cuyamaca mountains and anza borrego desert. NO BEARS! although I heard a rumor of a dumpster diving bear at cuyamaca. don't know if its true or not. I have never seen him, but then I'm not really looking either!

5:48 p.m. on September 2, 2012 (EDT)
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If I ever encounter a bear that truly wants to cause me grief I will just turn into a ninja and show the bear who is boss. :)

Fly like a butterfly, sting like a bee...

8:19 p.m. on September 2, 2012 (EDT)
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Trailjester said:


I hike in san diego county, CA in the san jacinto wilderness, san jacinto state park, cuyamaca mountains and anza borrego desert. NO BEARS! although I heard a rumor of a dumpster diving bear at cuyamaca. don't know if its true or not. I have never seen him, but then I'm not really looking either!

 I lived in Riverside through high school, then in Pasadena and West LA during undergrad and grad school. I did a lot of hiking and climbing (and back country skiing) in the San Bernardino, San Jacinto, San Gabriel, and other mountains, and as part of my major in astrophysics, spent a bit of time at Palomar.

So you have never wondered why Big Bear Lake is named that? During the 15 years I was in SoCal, plus and additional 20 years that my mother and my in-laws were in SoCal, there were plenty of bears (blackies all, since the official California Bear on the flag was exterminated in the 1920s). I saw several of them, as well as bear sign, plus read reports of bears (including the summers I spent as a counselor at Camp Emerson in Idylwild). They are there all right. Just because you haven't seen them (remember that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, especially when Fish and Game have plenty of evidence). Read this and this recent LATimes article (with photos).

I am currently in the SFBay Area. Up here, we get bears wandering into downtown Santa Cruz at least once a year (as well as other parts of the Bay Area, plus lion - there have been two shot within a mile of my house in Midtown Palo Alto, just because they were within a couple blocks of elementary schools). The bears, lions, and bobcats are pretty much shy of humans, although they do wander into towns once in a while.

4:05 p.m. on September 3, 2012 (EDT)
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glendale is a long way from san diego. there are no bears in the san jacintos, or in anza borrego. there simply isn't any food for them. bear cans/hanging are not required. the bear in cuyamaca may be gone too, I havn't heard any reports of him either. anyway, better to have no bears than just shy bears. I kind of wish we did have bears, it would be cool to see one, even if it is dumpster diving. the one thing we do have is mountain lions. I saw one on the trail once. I think he was stalking me. I yelled and he ran off. that was scary. he looked well fed, though. maybe he snacked on some hikers earlier.

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