Woman sustains non-life-threatening injuries in black bear attack

St. Paul — An Aitkin County woman was injured in a black bear attack Monday evening, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The 72-year-old McGregor woman was bitten and clawed by a sow bear before the animal and her three yearlings left the woman’s property. The woman’s injuries were serious but not life-threatening. The bears had been seen on the property prior to Monday’s incident.

A conservation officer later killed the 190-pound female, or sow, bear, after the animal ran at the officer as well.

“Like any wild animal, bears can be unpredictable,” said Rodmen Smith, acting director of the DNR’s Division of Enforcement. “This situation was clearly unusual bear behavior and presented a public safety risk.”

Black bears are rarely aggressive and attacks on people are rare. Until this incident, the DNR has documented only four bear attacks on people involving serious injuries in the state since 1987. None have been fatal. The most recent attack requiring hospitalization was in 2005. The documented attacks show no clear pattern. Each year in North America there are thousands of interactions between people and black bears without incident. 

Read Joe Albert's Blog titled "When Bears Attack".

According to the DNR, the incident on Monday began when the woman let her dog outside after checking to make sure the bears, which had been seen on the property for several days, weren’t around. When the three yearlings unexpectedly ran from under the deck, her golden retriever ran off the deck and gave chase.

When the woman reached the bottom of her deck stairs, she saw the sow nearby. The sow initially ran toward the dog, but when the woman yelled for the dog to return, the sow changed direction and came at her, striking her left arm and side with its claws and knocking her to the ground. The bear retreated, and then attacked a second time, biting her on the right arm and leg, leaving puncture wounds. The sow bear ran in the direction of the three yearlings. The woman called 911 around 7 p.m.

An Aitkin County Sheriff’s deputy arrived on the scene but was unable to locate the bears. A DNR conservation officer arrived and found the bears about 200 yards from where the incident occurred. When the sow ran toward him, he shot and killed it.

Under DNR policy and state law, conservation officers and other enforcement agencies may kill a bear if it is considered a threat to public safety. The sow has been taken to the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul for necropsy. The yearlings, which appeared healthy and would naturally become independent of their mother by early June, were left in the area.

Black bears are normally wary of humans, but they can be provoked by unusual circumstances. Bears that feel comfortable living near people may become more unpredictable when faced with a stressful situation, such as a dog in chase of their offspring. Typically, mothers with cubs or yearlings are no more dangerous than solitary bears.

Homeowners should strive not to attract bears to their property. Removing sources of food such as bird feeders, feeding pets indoors, storing trash in bear-proof containers and keeping barbeque grills clean can help avoid attracting bears.

For more information about human-black bear interactions, visit the DNR’s website.

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