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Wildlife-Human Attacks 101

Jenn Smith

Posted on July 12 2019

KALISPELL – Dozens of law enforcement officers from Flathead and Lake counties trained on Thursday in Lone Pine Park on how to respond to a wildlife-human attack.

You could be out hiking, walking or running and come across a bear or a mountain lion. Erik Wenum with Fish Wildlife and Parks says the best thing to do is minimize the surprise wildlife encounter ahead of time by making a ton of human noise.

Wenum says yelling, clapping, and saying “hey bear” are all good things to do. Bear bells aren’t the best as its a novel sound to bears and it will draw their attention to you more. He explained why surprising wildlife is the most dangerous.

“We’ve invaded their personal space. Everyone has personal space, that envelope that we feel comfortable with people outside of. Bears have the same thing. So, when we’ve stepped into that personal space. That’s the surprise, that’s the startle response,” explained Erik Wenum.

Wenum detailed how a surprise wildlife encounter can turn deadly.

“What they want to do is they’re looking for an escape route and if they don’t feel like they have an adequate escape route where they can just run away into the brush and hide. They’ll go ahead and attack. And then what they’re doing is neutralizing that threat,” said Wenum.

Wenum tells MTN News the way a person should respond to a black bear, grizzly bear and mountain lion attack are all different.

If you run into a black bear he recommends fighting back. But if you come across a grizzly bear, curl up into the fetal position with your hands behind your neck to protect your vital organs.

But if you run into a mountain lion, a mountain lion’s goal is to attack and eat you. The best things to do are fight back, make yourself look bigger than you appear and throw things at it.

Brian Sommers enters the picture if a person is attacked by wildlife; he’s been the criminal investigator for FWP for over 30 years. He told MTN News that a common mistake is for people after they’ve played dead in the fetal position during a grizzly attack.

“Remain there, even after the bear is done what it’s doing. A lot of time they’ll move on. But what happens is that people play dead and then after a minute or so they sit up and the bear is still sitting there watching thinking ‘hey did I do a good enough job reducing the threat the first time’?” Sommers explained. “And when the person sits up they come back in and the attack starts again. And a lot of the time the second times is worse than the first.”

Wenum says bear activity is low this summer due to high huckleberry growth because more huckleberries mean bears won’t seek food elsewhere like garbage cans. Both Wenum and Sommers recommend always carry bear spray as it works on many forms of wildlife. It can neutralize bears, mountain lions, and even moose.

Story re-posted from Written by Maren Siu.