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Black Bear Attacks Rare But Inching Up

Public Domain / Jean Beaufort

Black bear attacks are extremely rare, but that could be changing. Wildlife officials say with more people coming into contact with wildlife, the chances for conflict will also increase. 

People often think of black bears as less dangerous than grizzlies - even shy and passive. Chuck Bartlebaugh with the Be Bear Aware campaign in Montana said that’s a problem.

"That’s not a generality that should be used to describe any kind of bear," said Bartlebaugh. 

And while black bear attacks remain rare, Bartlebaugh said too many people have let their guard down. He said it’s impossible to tell a bear’s demeanor by simply looking at it, so you should never approach it. But, it is possible that a bear might approach you. That’s why Bartlebaugh said it’s important to be prepared.

"Always have your bear spray and have a bear spray that sprays seven-plus seconds and goes at least 30 feet," said Bartlebaugh. 

And if you have to use it, Bartlebaugh added, don’t use short bursts--spray like your life depends on it. 

One study published in 2011 showed at least 63 people were killed by black bears in the U-S since 1900. However, the authors noted a direct relationship between an increasing number of attacks and population growth in North America. 

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Maggie Mullen is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. Her work has aired on NPR, Marketplace, Science Friday, and Here and Now. She was awarded a 2019 regional Edward R. Murrow Award for her story on the Black 14.
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