Could Pandemic Joblessness Have Led To A Record Amount Of Bear Attacks?

James Pulfer |
brown coated bear walking on grass field
A grizzly bear strolling through a meadow, soaking up some sunshine. Unsplash

There’s no question, that with so many people out of work, trailheads for popular areas have had a significant increase in traffic. In the first half of this year so far, grizzly bear attacks are at an all-time high for this time of the year. Seven different attacks have been documented in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem so far this year. Typically, only an average of one attack occurs by this point in the year. This accounts for 17% of recorded grizzly attacks dating back to 1992. The vast majority of grizzly encounters occur in the heavily hunted months of September and October when bears are preparing for winter.

Documented human injuries caused by grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem: 1992-2020
A chart outlining grizzly attacks in the first half of the year, compared to the second half. Data provided by Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team / Chart provided by Andy EdwardsJH News and Guide

As some speculate that this may be, at least partially pandemic caused, due to high numbers of out of work citizens recreating in higher concentrations around these bears. Game and Fish large carnivore supervisor, Dan Thompson said that. “People involved in the attacks this year were well versed (with bear safety), and doing everything right.” None of the attacks this year have shown any predatory actions by the bears. They have all come from catching a bear off guard, or a sow protecting her cubs. The two most common causes of bear attacks.

brown bear on brown tree branch during daytime
A grizzly cub, which sows become very protective of, leading to many bear attacks. Unsplash

One of the seven bear incidences so far this year occurred just outside Big Sky, MT.  A local resident caught a grizzly off guard while riding a developed trail, and ended up critically injured. Mountain biking can be easy to catch bears off guard, due to how much ground you can cover and the speeds reached. This is a trail that I have personally mountain biked myself, which is very close to residences and a population base. “All of these incidents underscore the need for situational awareness and practicing with bear spray. So that when you do have to deploy rapidly and in close-range, you have a chance at being able to do that effectively.” says independent conservationist Steve Primm. Bear spray is the most humane and effective tool in use today, granted you know how to use it correctly. Because at the end of the day, the bears have not changed their behaviors as we have.

Jackson Hole News and Guide
Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team
Frank van Manen – research biologist supervisor for I.G.B.S.T.
Andy Edwards / JH News and Guide
Quotes by:
Dan Thompson –  Game and Fish Large Carnivore Supervisor
Steve Primm  –  Independent Conservationist

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