Waiting for more info

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Posted by Ballpark Frank ( on 11:21:38 08/16/13

In Reply to: Bear Attack posted by dave


According to Stephen Herrero, author of "Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance", there has not been an attack on a group of 4 or more. In Yellowstone, there has not been an attack on a group of 3 or more.

Bison and Wendy have both witnessed the deterrent influence of large group size in Yellowstone. I know, because I was with them when it happened. In Wendy's case, we were in open country, and were able to insure that the mom with cubs could see our group of five at a reasonable distance. She opted to take her cubs and leave the area.

Bison has been around grizzlies on numerous occasions in the backcountry, but the specific instance I am thinking about is the time we surprised the mother and cub on the Mary Mountain trail. Thankfully, there were also five of us in this incident. We were walking west, in the vicinity of Highland Hot Springs. In that area, the old road is slowly being taken over by young lodgepole pines. There were enough of them to totally obscure our view of the bears, until we were right on top of them. We actually heard the bears before we saw them. The cub started making panic vocalizations, and mom gave a quick reply. Then it was nothing but the noise of frightened bears crashing through the bushy new growth, heading south. A few of us at the front of the column got an oh so brief view of the rump of the mother disappearing at high speed. We were spared a potentially nasty confrontation by the fact that (1) there were two fairly loud conversations going simultaneously and (2) there was little if any wind to obscure our noise.

The only time I have been charged by a grizzly, it was a mother with cubs, and she could not see my hiking partner until she got real close to us, at which point I used pepper spray. We will never know which was the bigger factor, the pepper spray, or the presence of my 6'6" hiking pal, but she broke off the charge.

Over the years, we have had a number of other instances where grizzlies responded to large numbers of humans by fleeing the scene. I'm a believer in the "four or more" protocol.

I am very anxious to see more information on the circumstances in this recent incident. The presence or absence of strong winds can manipulate the efficacy of human noisemaking. One news report says the group was "doing everything right", including making noise. Wind can reduce the beneficial impact. Wind direction can also be a factor, determinant in assessing whether the bears had an opportunity to pick up the scent of the approaching humans.

If the group had allowed themselves to become somewhat separated, with a sizeable gap between the lead pair and the other pair, that would be a negative factor. On the flip side, we know the second pair were carrying pepper spray, and used it to defuse the situation. That's a big positive. The news report I read talked about the hikers seeing a cub first. I have preached to fellow hikers about how "cubs will get you into trouble". That belief is rooted in an encounter a friend of mine and I had with a black bear mom and her cubs when we were maybe 12 or 13 years old. A couple cubs had worked their way around us, without our being aware of their presence. Mom started looking for them, and found us in between her and them. We took off running, and as soon as we cleared a low ridgeline that was behind us, we almost ran over a couple little black fur balls.

The behavior of cubs and the presence or absence of wind are factors that you can't control. You can control for group size and group behavior, which is why I am such a big believer in not having a group develop big gaps between hikers, particularly if you are not in open country.

All this said, I am anxious to see what future reports say about the particulars in this incident.


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