Bear Market

The Economist speculates on North American bear attacks
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The Economist speculates on North American bear attacks

The SummeroftheBear continues into fall, and if you require further proof of the ursine dominance of the seasons, you need look no further than the latest issue of The Economist. The normally austere news publication gets into a lather about the supposed increase in North American bear attacks, leading with a few vividly terrifying accounts of maulings before declaring this a "horrific summer for bear attacks in Canada."

But after a few graphs of fainting and hyperventilating, they turn off the worry faucet and declare bear-human attacks "exceedingly rare." The article cites bear-behavior guru and University of Calgary professor Steven Herrero, who figures there have been only 13 black bear attacks, including one fatality, and 11 grizzly attacks this year. The stat that neither species has averaged more than two human kills a year since the 1950s remains safe, and backs up the old saw that "bee stings, lightning bolts, spider bites and dogs" are more likely to own you in '08.

But which is it? Will a slavering army of bears swarm society to kill us all or not? BACKPACKER checked in with Herrero, and he insists that any increase in encounters comes from growing human and bear populations rather than a measurable uptick in any bruin's desire for manflesh. Herrero also shared the latest thinking in bear encounter prevention and management with BACKPACKER before heading off to Japan (probably to do something very bear-y):

"There is no new magic bullet to stop all bear attacks. However, standard prevention techniques such as being alert, carrying deterrents, traveling in groups, avoiding areas where bears are most active, and not surprising bears go a long way. One should also know what to do if attacked. While there is not a new magic bullet, studies on the efficacy of bear spray continue to demonstrate its value as a deterrent.

The best management contribution to safety around bears has been storing our food and garbage so bears can't use aggression to get it....and occasionally us. Other management contributions to safety have been sharing information about the nature of bears and their behavior. An understanding of bear behavior and ecology goes a long way toward producing safety for bears and people."

See? Nothing to freak out about, folks — what we've been telling you all along is still mostly true. Humans and bears can get along in this crazy world...as long as they stay away from our goddamned honey.

— Ted Alvarez

If you go down to the woods…(The Economist)