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Old 06-19-2018, 10:03 PM   #1
Kevin7
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Irresponsible, Fear-mongering Article on Bear Attacks

https://lithub.com/a-walk-in-the-woods/

This article by Bill Bryson was just posted below. I think it is filled with mis-information, and very irresponsible. Bryson mentions that he read the authority on bear attacks, Stephen Herrero. Yes, he read him – and then largely ignored what Herrero had written, and instead filled the article with his own fears and prejudices. He implies that people die of black bear attacks because their “one fatal mistake was to smooth their hair with a dab of aromatic gel, or eat juicy meat, or tuck a Snickers in their shirt pocket for later, or have sex, or even, possibly, menstruate, or in some small, inadvertent way pique the olfactory properties of the hungry bear.

Nothing could be further from the truth. There are nearly one million black bears in North America, a great many of them living in close proximity to humans. But they do not prey on humans. There are frequent years when food is very scarce for the bears – and they still do not prey on humans.

The vast majority of black bears will turn tail and run when they encounter a human. A certain number have grown accustomed to humans – and some of these will even bully you and steal your food. But these too will not kill you.

Yes, there is the extraordinarily rare “predaceous” black bear that will actually prey on humans. It is almost always a male, almost always a very wild bear lacking previous contact with humans (but please note that almost all “very wild black bears” do not attack humans). Worrying about being killed by a predaceous black bear is a lot like worrying that the stranger you are passing in the street is a serial killer. Yes, he could be a serial killer. But it is very unlikely, and not worth worrying about.

There are so many other things in the wild that are so much more likely to kill you – hypothermia, drowning, falling from a cliff… Not to mention driving to the trail head in your car.

(Incidentally, there is evidence that you have a good chance of surviving that incredibly rare predaceous bear attack by fighting the bear with everything you’ve got – you don’t have to “beat” the bear, just demonstrate that you may be too dangerous to be suitable prey.)

You are not going to be killed by a black bear because you forgot you had a snickers bar in your pocket. This is not to say you shouldn’t be careful; you may have a very unpleasant encounter with a black bear because you have not stored your food properly. Worse still, your carelessness will endanger the bear by turning it into a nuisance bear.

We should respect black bears, but we shouldn’t fear-monger about them.

Last edited by Kevin7; 06-20-2018 at 10:37 PM..
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Old 06-20-2018, 12:25 AM   #2
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It's an excerpt from Bryson's "A Walk In The Woods" (says so in the first line of the article). The book was published 20 years ago (1998). So if anyone's perception of bears was influenced by it, I'm afraid the damage has already been done.

Bryson's books are filled with personal opinions about all sorts of things. Lots of people have misconceptions about bears and Bryson shows that, even when faced with facts (Herrero's book), they still harbor those misconceptions. That's the takeaway there not Bryson's laser focus on corner-cases and mortified ramblings about "blowing my sphincter out my backside" in fear.

Aside from all that, I do agree with you that he cranks the paranoia up to 11 for no good reason and, for those who take his opinions as fact, he does them a disservice.
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Old 06-20-2018, 10:46 AM   #3
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It might be helpful to remember that Bryson is a humorist, and one of the major tools of humorists, (especially in the Adirondacks!) is exaggeration. Or maybe Harvey Carr did grow zuchinnis big enough to carve into canoes !!!
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Old 06-20-2018, 11:51 AM   #4
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[URL="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fatal_bear_attacks_in_North_America"]
2 bear deaths in the US in 2016 compared to this

You would find emergency rooms in the US filled with more fall related injured people compared to any other reasons. The report given by the National Safety Council reveals almost 12,000 thousand deaths each year occurs at homes due to stair accident falls. Among unintended injuries stair fall is second after automobile crashes.


I would be more fearful of stairs
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Old 06-20-2018, 12:34 PM   #5
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The attitude one should have towards black bears is dependent on situation and location.

Hiking through rural PA or most parts of NY, I'm really not too worried about black bears. I'm aware that they're out there, but I don't think the possibility of a dangerous encounter is high. There are certain areas where more caution is required (High Peaks) because bears have come to associate human presence with food, but in general, I think the risk is very low, if the proper precautions are taken.

In some of the more remote areas of Canada I've traveled to, black bears are not only abundant but also somewhat less timid around humans. I can recall a visit to one outdoor lodge where the owner pretty much required that i had a can of bear spray on me while I hiked around the complex. Evidently, the bears up in that area had a reputation for being somewhat confrontational with humans. And mind you, this was an area where they were regularly hunted.

I think a prepared mindset is warranted for going into black bear country. Have a plan to avoid attracting black bears (food discipline, trash storage). Have a plan to dissuade a curious/aggressive bear. Have a plan to fight off the bear, if it comes to that. Chances are, you'll never have to resort to those last two plans, but black bears are opportunist predators. Most of them are timid around humans, but there are a few that can be curious or outright aggressive.
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Old 06-20-2018, 01:16 PM   #6
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Taking bear advice from Bryson is like taking parenting advice from Dave Barry or Louie
CK.
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Old 06-20-2018, 09:11 PM   #7
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Just a few statistics:
There were 14 fatal black bear attacks in the lower 48 U.S. states between 1900 and 2009. 14 in a century plus! In an area where more than 300,000 black bears have innumerable encounters with millions and millions of wilderness visitors every year.

Compare this to fatal dog attacks, which occur in the U.S. at a rate of 30-35 each year.

In Alaska and Canada (where I hail from), the rate of black bear deaths is higher - 49 in a century. And this in spite of the fact that there are many, many more bear-human encounters in the lower 48 states (because there are so many more people out in the wilds). No one knows why this is so.

But whether you live north or south of the border, your chances of getting killed by a black bear are fantastically small. All the same, they are large, powerful animals, and you should respect them.

It also turns out that the popular notion of the dangerous black bear mother with her cubs is a myth. Momma bear may put on an aggressive appearance and make bluff charges if she sees you as a threat, but she won't actually attack you. Those very few, very rare dangerous bears are male bears (turns out black bears are a lot like humans- but much less dangerous).

Here is a good summary of the research findings (though with a sensationalistic and misleading headline), and a video by the expert Stephen Herrero explaining the research.

http://www.ucalgary.ca/news/may2011/bears

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Old 06-21-2018, 08:31 AM   #8
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Quote:
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Just a few statistics:
There were 14 fatal black bear attacks in the lower 48 U.S. states between 1900 and 2009. 14 in a century plus! In an area where more than 300,000 black bears have innumerable encounters with millions and millions of wilderness visitors every year.

Compare this to fatal dog attacks, which occur in the U.S. at a rate of 30-35 each year.

In Alaska and Canada (where I hail from), the rate of black bear deaths is higher - 49 in a century. And this in spite of the fact that there are many, many more bear-human encounters in the lower 48 states (because there are so many more people out in the wilds). No one knows why this is so.

But whether you live north or south of the border, your chances of getting killed by a black bear are fantastically small. All the same, they are large, powerful animals, and you should respect them.

It also turns out that the popular notion of the dangerous black bear mother with her cubs is a myth. Momma bear may put on an aggressive appearance and make bluff charges if she sees you as a threat, but she won't actually attack you. Those very few, very rare dangerous bears are male bears (turns out black bears are a lot like humans- but much less dangerous).

Here is a good summary of the research findings (though with a sensationalistic and misleading headline), and a video by the expert Stephen Herrero explaining the research.

http://www.ucalgary.ca/news/may2011/bears
Yes, dated excerpt from an entertaining book. Not expert opinion.

For me, bear safety in the woods of the ADK means keeping things clean and stored properly so I don't get my gear trashed or food swiped. The few times I have encountered bears, either around camp (ie- food) or on the trail, they have scooted off when we snarled at them and made ourselves big and loud. Sure, a motivated and nuts bear could take me down if it wanted to, but I have been more frightened of dogs not being under control on the trails than of bears....still traumatized by the two mongrels who wanted a piece of me and my dog (on leash) at Lake Tear....
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Old 06-21-2018, 10:44 AM   #9
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Quote:
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Just a few statistics:
There were 14 fatal black bear attacks in the lower 48 U.S. states between 1900 and 2009. 14 in a century plus! In an area where more than 300,000 black bears have innumerable encounters with millions and millions of wilderness visitors every year.

Compare this to fatal dog attacks, which occur in the U.S. at a rate of 30-35 each year.

In Alaska and Canada (where I hail from), the rate of black bear deaths is higher - 49 in a century. And this in spite of the fact that there are many, many more bear-human encounters in the lower 48 states (because there are so many more people out in the wilds). No one knows why this is so.

But whether you live north or south of the border, your chances of getting killed by a black bear are fantastically small. All the same, they are large, powerful animals, and you should respect them.

It also turns out that the popular notion of the dangerous black bear mother with her cubs is a myth. Momma bear may put on an aggressive appearance and make bluff charges if she sees you as a threat, but she won't actually attack you. Those very few, very rare dangerous bears are male bears (turns out black bears are a lot like humans- but much less dangerous).

Here is a good summary of the research findings (though with a sensationalistic and misleading headline), and a video by the expert Stephen Herrero explaining the research.

http://www.ucalgary.ca/news/may2011/bears
The problem with statistics is that you can twist and turn them every which way to conform to a narrative.

There are more fatal dog attacks than there are fatal bear attacks annually because humans have much more opportunity for interaction with the former than the with the latter. So no one should be surprised by that statistic. You're a lot more likely to get attacked by a dog than a Great White shark, but that doesn't make the shark any less dangerous.

As for this claim that mother black bears never attack humans in defense of their cubs: https://www.cp24.com/news/woman-reco...arie-1.3907332

You should avoid trying to claim absolutes like that.

The author of the article you referenced may have said some stuff that you disagree with. That doesn't mean we have to pretend that black bears are totally innocuous animals. They are opportunistic predators and they need to be given adequate space and caution.

And by the way, the author you're bashing on really wasn't stating anything all that controversial. He even made a point of saying that the possibility of a black bear attack was very unlikely:

Quote:
Now it is important to establish right away that the possibility of a serious bear attack on the Appalachian Trail is remote.
Quote:
Black bears rarely attack. But here’s the thing. Sometimes they do. All bears are agile, cunning, and immensely strong, and they are always hungry. If they want to kill you and eat you, they can, and pretty much whenever they want. That doesn’t happen often, but—and here is the absolutely salient point—once would be enough.
He's not claiming anything in the above quotes that plenty of state bear biologists haven't already acknowledged.
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Old 06-21-2018, 05:46 PM   #10
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I just don't appreciate nor like the fear-mongering writing style here:

"Black bears rarely attack. But here’s the thing. Sometimes they do. All bears are agile, cunning, and immensely strong, and they are always hungry. If they want to kill you and eat you, they can, and pretty much whenever they want. That doesn’t happen often, but—and here is the absolutely salient point—once would be enough."

It's not so much what he's saying, it's HOW he's writing it and how he writes stylistically.

I agree with Kevin7 statement that: "We should respect black bears, but we shouldn’t fear-monger about them."

I feel like authors and especially the mainstream media can sometimes fear monger and sensationalize because there is a financial incentive to do so.
My personal opinion is that a considerable amount of the journalism and media reporting on Climate Change is like this: Fear mongering and sensationalism to entice the reader and sell more copies of what they are printing. I personally find it annoying and irresponsible.

There definitely needs to be black bear awareness, proper precautions, and respect but people don't need to wear bells when walking to the bank in downtown Manchester NH either.
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Old 06-22-2018, 07:55 AM   #11
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As Lucky 13 and others have said, Bryson is a humorist. He uses humor and exaggeration to illustrate just how under-prepared and inexperienced he was to try the rather formidable task of hiking hundreds of miles on the Appalachian Trail. He wasn't writing to warn others, but to make fun of himself. If you haven't read A Walk in the Woods, I highly recommend it. It's very entertaining.
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Old 06-22-2018, 05:48 PM   #12
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https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/...inet-mountains

"He was just doing what bears do."


An impressive example of clear-thinking; spraying the grizzly while it had her skull in its jaws. I'd like to think I could do that but odds are it would be a Bryson-like "blow my sphincter out my backside". Kudos to her for quick reflexes and survival skills.
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Old 06-22-2018, 11:11 PM   #13
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Although the chance of being harmed by a black bear while hiking in the Adirondacks is vanishingly small, the idea of a bear attack looms large in our imaginations - mine as much as anybody else's.
It grabs our imaginations much more vividly than hypothermia or the drive to the trailhead, even though these things are much more dangerous to us than bears.

I guess we should have pity on our poor, overactive imaginations. I'm just making a plea for counterbalancing our irrational fears with a rational appreciation that the actual risk is very, very small.
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Old 06-23-2018, 11:25 AM   #14
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This bear really should be put down. Seems like a bad apple.

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Old 06-23-2018, 06:07 PM   #15
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[QUOTE=JohnnyVirgil;268451]This bear really should be put down. Seems like a bad apple.

LMAO, good one!
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Old 06-24-2018, 05:14 AM   #16
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Individual stances on likelihood of a bear attack are right out of R/K selection theory. R's see no threat because of infinitesimal odds while K's like to be prepared.

Me I like to be prepared and always carry pepper spray. It's also useful not just for bears but dogs and humans too. My motto is under the right circumstances any wild animal can be dangerous. I have even been confronted twice by hormone raged bucks so even docile deer are dangerous. I'm still waiting to hear about a Moose attack in Adirondacks. None so far but give it time.
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Old 06-24-2018, 06:20 AM   #17
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Although the chance of being harmed by a black bear while hiking in the Adirondacks is vanishingly small, the idea of a bear attack looms large in our imaginations - mine as much as anybody else's.
It grabs our imaginations much more vividly than hypothermia or the drive to the trailhead, even though these things are much more dangerous to us than bears.

I guess we should have pity on our poor, overactive imaginations. I'm just making a plea for counterbalancing our irrational fears with a rational appreciation that the actual risk is very, very small.
No adult human has ever been killed by a wild black bear in NYS since they've been recording attacks. I'd call those odds small.
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Old 06-24-2018, 01:05 PM   #18
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No adult human has ever been killed by a wild black bear in NYS since they've been recording attacks. I'd call those odds small.
You could say the same thing about shark attacks. I'd rather not be chomped on at all, regardless of whether it actually kills me or not.

I know it's incredibly rare to be attacked, and I've only seen one bear closer than 100 yards to me in over 30 years of hoofing around different parts of the Adirondacks. But on the other hand, someone *always* wins the lottery eventually, even if the odds of winning are pretty much the same whether you buy a ticket or not. So I carry bear spray. For the extra half a pound, I'd rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it. I'll admit it's mostly because I don't trust other people's dogs all that much, but hey, if my head ends up in a bear's mouth some day, at least I won't be wishing I had it.
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Old 06-24-2018, 01:41 PM   #19
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I've never met a bear when hiking but I did have one encounter with a very aggressive bear at my camp. I like to call it my attitude adjustment encounter. Only happened once in 20 years but I felt I learned a valuable lesson. Consequently I've hiked trails for over 30 years and have only lost the trail once. Should I leave my compass and GPS home?
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Old 06-25-2018, 04:10 PM   #20
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As Lucky 13 and others have said, Bryson is a humorist. He uses humor and exaggeration to illustrate just how under-prepared and inexperienced he was to try the rather formidable task of hiking hundreds of miles on the Appalachian Trail. He wasn't writing to warn others, but to make fun of himself. If you haven't read A Walk in the Woods, I highly recommend it. It's very entertaining.
Yes, but to be fair I don't think his points on black bear were meant to be humorous or entertaining. I think he was expressing his opinion on how they should be viewed by humans.

There have been a few black bear attacks in recent years, including in some areas of eastern North America. The chances of an attack happening to someone are still statistically low, which the author even acknowledges. But his point is that a person should be aware of the consequences of such an attack if one should occur. I think his comments were more of a rebuttal to the Walt Disney-mentality that black bears are shy, reclusive gentle giants who don't want to bother us humans. While there may be some truth to that, it is also true that they are cunning, strong and opportunistic animals. More often than not, their fear of the unknown will motivate them to leave us alone, but if/when their curiosity overcomes that fear, you need to know what you're dealing with.
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