Last week, we received a report of a bear attack on Department of Natural Resources land.
This happened at Miller Peninsula. After gathering more information, we learned it was a bear encounter, not a bear attack. A black bear popped onto the trail and spooked a couple of horses and caused them to run.
According to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, there was just a single sighting of this bear.
Becky Bennett, public information officer with the WDFW police, said it’s not unusual that this bear hasn’t been spotted again. She said bears can travel 10 to 20 miles a day.
Personally, I didn’t realize bears came down that low and north of U.S. Highway 101. I was later told bears have been spotted in the Miller Peninsula in the past.
According to Bennett, bears around here tend to be shy and avoid people, but that hikers in the Miller Peninsula area are being advised to be “bear aware.”
Being bear aware means keeping an eye out for wildlife; making noise, such as whistling.
The worst thing you can do to a bear is spook it, Bennett pointed out.
“You want the bear to recognize that you’re there,” she said.
Bennett also pointed out that a wild bear such as the one spotted at Miller Peninsula rarely cause problems with humans. Problem bears are usually animals that become accustomed to humans or have become used to digging through garbage.
If hikers do encounter a bear, Bennett says they shouldn’t run, because that can trigger a chase response. “Like a feather and a tabby cat,” she said. Instead, as scary as it can be, hikers are advised to stand as tall as they can and stand their ground. If people have a trekking pole with them, that can be used as a weapon against a bear.
I can speak from personal experience from living many years in the Sierra Nevada and in Montana that bears generally don’t seem very aggressive with people. I had tons of personal encounters with bears, both black bears and grizzlies. And in every case, the bear ran away or ignored me.
My various bear encounters:
While living in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., I was driving home from work at night and hit a deer at 60 miles an hour. I rolled my pickup down an embankment and literally broke the vehicle in half. Amazingly, I walked away from that wreck with bumps, scratches, some broken bones in my hand and a concussion.
After getting the remnants of the truck towed and getting a ride home, I was sitting in my living room feeling depressed about destroying my truck and I thought, “I really need a beer.” I was so out of it with my concussion, I didn’t even realize yet I had a broken hand. There was a liquor store down the street within walking distance that would be closing in half an hour, so I decided to get a six-pack of beer.
Walking to the liquor store, I encountered the biggest damn black bear I have ever seen in my life rummaging through a Dumpster. He stood up on his hind legs checking me out. He was a good 8 feet tall and standing 10 feet away from me. The thought literally went through my mind, “Oh, this is just perfect. This totally makes my day.”
The giant bear dropped down on all fours and growled and walked off into the night, apparently grouchy that I had interrupted his Dumpster diving at 1:30 a.m.
Incident number two. Hiking through the Rattlesnake Wilderness outside of Missoula, Mont., I was climbing up this ridge along a trail with tall grass on both sides when I tripped over something on the trail. I literally went “splat” face first into the ground.
Up jumped a little black bear. He had been sleeping on the trail for some reason and was completely hidden by the tall grass. He ran off whining. I got up, immediately wondering where mama bear might be. Fortunately, I never found out.
Number three. Hiking in Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada, I came across a big grizzly bear on his hind legs along the trail greedily eating huckleberries. I stood there for a few minutes, wondering how to get past the bear, then decided to leave the trail and go around him through the brush, keeping my eye on him the entire time. I did have bear spray, and it was out and armed. That bear couldn’t have cared less about me; he never even looked at me, too busy eating his huckleberries.
That maybe wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but I lived to tell about it. All I know is I wasn’t going to stand there all day waiting for him to finish eating.
So be aware. Bears are around. They’re mostly harmless and more afraid of you than you are of them. But they are around on the Olympic Peninsula.