I recently read the editorial entitled, Grizzly bears pose danger to all around them, And thought “Holy cow, that’s pretty scary. Perhaps I’ve been wrong about bears all along? I’d better read that study!”
The study, titled Hospitalizations and Deaths Resulting from Bear Attacks — Alaska, 2000–2017, was done by the Alaska Section of Epidemiology on Aug. 13, 2019 and was published in a bulletin by the same agency. That’s pretty much where the hard facts end, in my opinion, when it comes to this editorial.
The editorial breathlessly states that “a study of bear attacks during the years 2000-2017 by the Alaska Section of Epidemiology shows just how dangerous grizzlies are. During that time, 68 Alaskans were hospitalized and 10 others were killed.” Well, kind of.
While the study does show that 10 people were killed in that time period, it also shows that it was 8 attacks on 10 people. Seven of the fatal attacks were by brown bears and three by black bears. In 2003, environmental filmmaker Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, were living among the bears in Katmai National Park in Alaska. They were killed and almost entirely eaten by a 28-year-old brown bear. While this was a horrible tragedy it was not entirely unexpected due to Treadwell's lack of safety precautions, including pepper spray and electric fences. I dare say most of us will never be in such a situation, nor should we be.
Notably the study also showed that 50% of the 10 people killed by brown or black bears “either did not possess any bear deterrents or possessed a bear deterrent that was not readily accessible at the time of the attack (i.e., the deterrent was out-of-reach).” Of the 68 people hospitalized, but not killed, by bear attacks; “a substantial proportion of injuries involved persons who were not Alaska residents, underscoring the need for educational outreach to both Alaska residents and visitors.” Most were also in June. The driest month and likely one of the busier months for out of state visitors. It also reports that given all of these attacks you are still more likely to be injured by a dog or a car accident.
This editorial zealously continues to argue that “the plan to move hundreds of grizzly bears into the 9,500-square-mile North Cascades Ecosystem presents a huge risk to the people who live, work and recreate in that region.” What it doesn’t tell its reader is that this recovery of “hundreds” of bears will likely take a century and is in a remote wilderness area with no motorized vehicle access.
While the facts presented in the editorial are technically correct, they have been manipulated in a way to fit a certain narrative. One that wishes to inspire fear and loathing of one the most significant members of our North Cascade ecosystem. But, hey, don’t take my word for it. Read the whole story and base your opinion on facts, not fearmongering.