Trent Ernst, Editor
A 60 year old male is recovering after an encounter with a bear last weekend while hunting alone in Butler Ridge Provincial Park.
The man, a Hudson’s Hope resident, sustained injuries to his face and body, but was able to walk back to his vehicle and drive to a nearby residential area. He received preliminary first aid, and then was flown to Fort St. John. After being treated there, he was transported to the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton.
Conservation Officer Brad Lacey says the man has had one operation and will probably need at least one more operation before he is released.
The man who was attacked is an experienced outdoorsperson, who has been hunting in the region for over 30 years.
Lacey says the man was travelling through an area with a lot of buck brush and berry patches, with limited visibility. “He had a sudden close encounter with a Grizzly. The bear charged from about 20 feet away. Because of foliage, poor visibility was a key factor. He was able to get one shot off. He’s not sure if he hit the bear or not.”
The bear hit the man high on the body, knocking him to the ground, then proceeded to maul him, doing damage to the man’s face and body, both upper and lower.”
The man lay still, says Lacey. “Once the bear realized he was not a threat, the bear left him. He lay there for an indeterminate amount of time, until he was sure the bear had left. Then he got up, walked to his vehicle, then drove to a nearby residence.”
Lacey says conservation officers are having difficulty locating the bear, but they believe it was a Grizzly. They are hampered in their search as the man was hunting alone, and they have yet to locate the site of the attack.
An initial search by air and land in the area the man was suspected to be in turned up nothing, says Lacey. They spoke to him again to get more details, but a second search also came up empty.
“We had a second flight yesterday (Tuesday),” says Lacey. We were utilizing a Forward Looking Infrared device to see if we could see the bear but we were unable to do a proper search because of the snow. We did some ground cruising and didn’t find any visible signs of bear activity, again, because of the snow.”
Lacey says signs have been posted in the area warning people of the attack.
This is the latest in a rash of attacks this year.
Last month, a Bella Coola man heading to work accidentally came between a grizzly sow and her cubs.
An earlier attack in July saw two men wounded after coming between a mama and her cubs, this time near Fernie.
Like those two attacks, this one was a defensive encounter, says Lacey. “The bear was there for the berries,” he says. “It was protective of his food source.”
Lacey says, because the man was hunting, he was most likely moving quietly, and working from the downwind side to keep his scent from scaring off any animals. This unfortunately included the bear. “The bears are keying up hard on accessing food sources,” he says. “They’re finite and dwindling. Berries, carrion, the remains of harvested animals… They’re keying in on these seasonal food sources.”
At the same time, with hunting season, people are actively in the bush, in areas where they might not usually go.
This is the second attack in as many years in Northeastern BC. Last year, a hunter from Vanderhoof BC was attacked by a bear near Fort Nelson.
Lacey says these sudden close encounters are more common in the fall than the rest of the year. “Hunters are typically targeting elk and moose this time of year,” says Lacey. “They’re being stealthy, they’re staying downwind.” This, he says, leads to more encounters where humans are surprising bears, who will fight to defend themselves from perceived threat.”
But that’s not the only issue, says Lacey. “ The typical practice is to use calls to draw animals in. Hunters are out calling elk. They’re potentially using cover scents to make them smell like cow elks. They’re in full camo. But the key thing they need to keep in mind is that if you sound like a prey animal, and if you smell like a prey animal, another hunter might come and check it out.”
Lacey says he’s talked to a number of hunters from around the regions where people have been trying to call elk, and they draw in bear or wolves or even sometimes cougars. “If you see signs of a predator, scat, tracks, signs of feeding, lots of scavenger birds. Don’t go looking for whatever there is. It’s the common sense things. People are out there to enjoy the outdoors, but we’re in an environment where these animals are trying to make a living, and need to make it through winter. Animals are actively seeking out food sources.”
He says it’s not just hunters who are at risk. While many of the industrial sites around the region are very aware of wildlife issues, many people aren’t aware that anything that smells strongly may be a wildlife attractant. “I’ve seen black bears come and eat a five gallon bucket of bearing grease. People put Armor All on their snowmobile seats, and a bear will come and take a bite out of it to see if it’s any good. It might not be a food source, but if it smells like something that might be edible, the bears are going to try and eat it.”
Around the home, Lacey says people need to be careful of their barbecues, compost piles, garbage cans and fruit trees, among other things. “Fencing a yard is obviously a good barrier, but not an absolute barrier.”
This year, says Lacey, has been a particularly good one for the bears. “They’re all rolly-polly. It’s one of the best year’s I’ve seen.”
Lacey says that there’s no official date when the bears go and hibernate. “It’s based on weather, length of day, snow conditions. Basically, if they start expending more energy finding food than they are taking in, they’ll probably hibernate.”
He says that bears will probably den up by mid-November.