Monday, December 26, 2016

Black Bears Seldom Attack People

black bearDespite all of the black-bear incidents this year, including many close encounters in the woods and in residential areas, there were no reported injuries to people.

Historically, few people have been injured by bears in the Adirondacks, although many have come extremely close to them.

In 2015, a hiker got tangled up with a black bear in the southern Adirondacks and suffered life-threatening wounds but survived after a trip to the hospital. The hiker had been trying to save his dog from the bear.

A few years before that, a woman used a pocketknife to fend off a bear that she says stalked and ultimately approached her on the Northville-Placid Trail. She was not hurt.

The only known fatal bear attack in New York State occurred in 2002 when a young male bear killed an infant in the Catskills.
However, black bears have killed people in Algonquin Park in Canada, Glacier National Park in Montana, and other places. Fatal attacks are rare, but they do occur.

Some scientists says it’s not in the DNA of black bears to go after humans. They are omnivores that eat, among other things, skunk cabbage in the spring, berries in the summer, and tree mast in the fall. When they eat meat, it might be a small deer or even a bear cub.

When bears in the Adirondacks do injure humans, it’s usually because they are protecting their cubs or have come in contact with people while seeking food at a campsite or home.

“They are afraid of humans, and they aren’t really a predator,” said Michale Glennon, a Wildlife Conservation Society biologist. “They are an opportunistic omnivore, so if they are attacking a human, it’s for a cause that I would consider an anomaly: either fear because someone has gotten between them and their cubs or made them feel scared for whatever reason.”

“Generally, they are not accustomed to being around humans and don’t want to be around humans,” Glennon continued. “They are opportunistic and will find food sources that humans leave, and we are in close contact with them under those types of circumstances; the chances for something bad happening are, of course, higher.”

Photo: Black Bear by Jeff Nadler.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Adirondack Explorer, a nonprofit newsmagazine devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondack Park. Get a full print or digital subscription here.

Related Stories

Mike Lynch is a staff writer and photographer for the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly news magazine with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues. Mike’s favorite outdoor activities include paddling, hiking, fishing and backcountry skiing. In 2011, he paddled the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine. From 2007 until 2014, Mike worked as an outdoors writer and photographer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake. Mike welcomes story ideas and can be reached at

4 Responses

  1. Tom Leustek says:

    My only encounter with a black bear, after nearly 40 years in and around the high peaks, was on the cold river near its confluence with the racquette river. We rounded a turn going upstream, when we came upon the bear picking around a sand bar. We were up wind. As soon as he smelled us, he reared to hind legs to get a better smell of us, then bounded into the woods.

    Years earlier we spoke with a backpacker on the Indian Pass Trail who had a run in with a bear, and had a mangled cook pot to prove it. He claimed to have taken his pack off to get water in the stream. When he looked up a bear was making off with his pack uloading it’s contents as he ran away. No harm was done other than his pot wouldn’t hold water any longer.

    Even today, when I tell people that I am heading to ADK for primitive camping, the first question they ask is whether I worry about bears. My answer… No. I feel completely comfortable there, more so than at home.

  2. Bruce says:

    Two verified “stalking” incidents this year alone in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. One was a bear researcher who observed a male bear stalking him but was able to clear the area safely, and the other was a male which pulled a sleeping camper out of his hammock and the boy was saved by his father using a large stick.

    No food was involved in either incident. The latest research indicates that some lone males will consider people as food. Having said that, it is a rare occurrence as Mr. Lynch pointed out.

  3. W. Davis says:

    Staying at one of the long-gone Avalanche Leantos in 1983, in the evening after dinner a bear cub went out on the branch my food was hanging from, breaking the branch and falling to the ground with the food, while Mama waited. They stole off uphill with the tasty booty. Next morning an Ontarian with a group in the next-door leanto, with more gumption then I or my new bride, went uphill, saw Mama (who grunted and glared at him), but retrieved my now holey food bag as she grunted at him from a few yards away; he returned with pouches of garlic noodles and onion noodles intact. This why I think the bruins don’t like onion or garlic. The Canadians next morning kindly fed us from their bacon and eggs. The had slept with the food bags under their heads as pillows, protecting it! Another time, at Lake Colden, sleeping in a tent with my daughter, an adult was trying to reach my hanging food at 2AM (this is still in the days before canisters were even much of a thought), but in vain. I had a growling match with her from the tent but she finally left frustrated. Later I realized that the white hanging rope is an arrow to them, aside from the smell. I have heard firsthand of them driving people from leantos at Lake Colden, as the folks try to settle in upon arrival.

    • AG says:

      Well people who live or recreate in “bear country” need to take precaution. In reality a Japanese Akita or a Karelian bear dog are good companions. They have no fear of bears as they were originally bred to hunt bears. Their boldness and exceptional stamina and agility frustrates bears and will keep them from coming back after a while. That keeps the bear weary of people – and alive.