BWCA Danger of black bears in BWCA vs other areas Boundary Waters Listening Point - General Discussion
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wette
member (19)member
 
10/04/2022 01:42PM  
My friend and I were recently discussing a phenomenon that does not seem plausible, but would be curious if anyone has any insights into.

We both have taken many trips to BWCA as well as other parts of black bear territory in the US. To us it seems like very few people in the BWCA are concerned about black bears. The only 'warning' from outfitters, USFA, or others is to properly hang/store your food. I don't think I have ever seen on these forums or from an outfitter or USFS employee to "be careful about the bears" or "make sure to carry bear spray." People make it seem as if black bears are just absolutely no threat at all to humans, and just pesky creatures that want your food.

This is in stark contrast to when we are in areas that are black bear (no grizzlies) territory, hiking in areas near Seattle Washington for example, where there are tons of warnings about black bears, and to hike in group of at least 3, make lots of noise, and of course have bear spray. Weirdly, I feel like I hear less about proper food storage in those areas as well. Just warnings about your own safety from an attack.

Anyways, this gets to my actual questions. Are there any differences between how BWCA black bears behave and in other parts of the country? Is it possible that the bears in the BWCA do not pose a danger to humans whereas black bears in other geographies do? Or maybe I am just not properly seeing the warnings about the dangers in the BWCA of bears...

Appreciate any insights anyone has!

Thanks,
Jacob
 
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Freddy
distinguished member(726)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
10/04/2022 02:28PM  

Don't believe Black Bears behave differently in different parts of the country but of the 750,000 plus Black Bears in North America, less that one fatal encounter occurs on an annual basis. Can't speak to why some areas appear more concerned but you are much more likely to die from a domestic dog, a bee, or a lightning strike. The outfitters advice about securing your food is good advice to prevent a bear that might be interested in your food.
 
Minnesotian
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10/04/2022 03:32PM  

Good question. I think it has to do with proximately to humans and how habituated the bears are to human activity and especially how easy bears can get to human food and trash. While there are yearly warnings about problem bears in the BWCA, for the most part the bear population in the BWCA avoids humans and don't learn they are a source of food, and don't become aggressive. In Quetico, they don't even mention bears when getting your permit because of the infrequent encounters there. And when there are aggressive bears in the BWCA, hunters usually provide a solution.

Now, there are many examples of black bears being aggressive and a threat and coincidently that usually occurs in areas with greater human population. Examples include the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Yosemite National Park, both of which have high human populations. Just in 2021, 14.1 million people visited Great Smokey Mountains, compared to the BWCA in 2020 at 166,000 thousand.

At Yosemite and the Smokies, black bears have been taught by previous generations that humans are a source of easy food and therefore warnings and problems are regularly had at those locations by aggressive black bears throwing their weight around and sloppy humans that leave candy bars in their tents. That familiarity with humans might be why the bears in the Seattle area are considered more dangerous then BWCA.
 
mjmkjun
distinguished member(2879)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
10/04/2022 06:13PM  
Here's an article for you and your buddy to read. It concerns 2022 statistics/incidents. Bears messing with humans in 2022.

I don't have any significant insights to most of what you pose in your post--at least with any absolute certainty--but I don't think the bears in BWCA are as aggressive as those in the GSMNP, for instance. I believe black bears get annoyed when the human population encroaches too heavily on their territories and they lack the roaming space they require for their own comfort level. Incidents increase.

The hunger factor. A bear is 'hunger' wrapped in fur--no matter the habitat. A starving black bear will kill and eat you, or, attempt to do so. But that's the exception. By way of differences, a grizzly will kill you if it takes a mind to do so. just cuz you are there on its path--hungry or not hungry.

I have made yearly treks to BWCA without fretting about black bears and have had no encounters, to this date. I have a healthy respect for what they are capable of--although a high percentage of 'em will run off from encounters/sites with groups of people or seasoned canoe trippers, hikers, and local residents.

In short, black bear menacing is brought on when they are forced to exist close to humans. Seems humans are ever-encroaching every square foot on this earth with no sign of stopping.
 
10/04/2022 08:24PM  
Good question. I don’t have a good answer about why black bear precautions are different in different regions… I can see grizzlies or brown bears being different as they react differently.

Not an apples to apples comparison but about 40-50 people are killed by dogs in the US every year and another ~10,000 are hospitalized with serious injuries due to dogs…while 1.25 people in all of North America are killed by black bears each year. There has never been a fatal black bear attack in MN. There was a MN woman killed in 2019 just across the border in Ontario. Since 1987 (35 years) there have been 8 black bear attacks in MN where people were hospitalized..2 in the BWCAW in 1987…Met one of the guys who was attacked…was still going into the BWCAW in his 70’s.

I say all that because I think many of the people that go to places like the BWCAW just don’t have a fear of bears…if we see a bear it is rare…if we see one it probably ran away…if it didn’t it wanted our food not us. We realize the most dangerous thing we do is probably get in a car and drive to the BWCAW. Maybe people that go other places are different…less experienced in the outdoors/wilderness or the bears are more used to people? I am just guessing I don’t have a great answer for you.

T
 
10/04/2022 08:33PM  
Im leaning with agreeing with Minnesotian.

I've encountered black bears in our cities around the Twin Cities. I had one following me for over a mile as I rolled off distances between telephone poles as was my job at the time. I never once felt threatened and honestly, I consider them cute animals that scatter like the rest of them do.

Food is the single reason why one would come in camp. Most likely a learned place it has found in the past.
 
10/04/2022 08:52PM  
I looked up Washington States stats on black bear attacks and they are very similar to MN. Since 1970 (52 years) there have been 18 attacks on people that resulted in injury and one fatality (in 1974). So it doesn’t seem like there are significantly more attacks in the area you mention or that they are dangerous?

I didn’t note above…maybe too it seems like the Washington area is more for hiking. There is maybe more of a chance for an encounter than when primarily canoeing? Also when hiking the things you note are precautions and wouldn’t be bad to do…precautions are good…also takes liability away from the park?

T
 
wette
member (19)member
 
10/05/2022 10:00AM  
Thank you all so much for the thoughtful responses! I definitely buy into all of the takes. I feel like many areas of the BWCA seem busy and 'overcrowded' but when you compare it to Smoky Mountain NP, there is practically no one in the BW! So it makes sense that bears have not become habituated to humans, or rarely do here. I was lucky enough to see a bear last year, but it was sadly an extremely skinny bear and did not seem to be doing well.

It absolutely shocks me that there has never been a fatal bear attack in MN... with that in mind I will continue to leave the bear spray at home :)
 
Gadfly
distinguished member (438)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
10/05/2022 12:39PM  
wette: "
It absolutely shocks me that there has never been a fatal bear attack in MN... with that in mind I will continue to leave the bear spray at home :) "


This is false. There have been two however one of the fatalities was from a captive bear.
 
10/05/2022 02:49PM  
Gadfly: "wette: "
It absolutely shocks me that there has never been a fatal bear attack in MN... with that in mind I will continue to leave the bear spray at home :) "



This is false. There have been two however one of the fatalities was from a captive bear. "


I don't think this is false? Care to share the attack in MN when a black bear killed someone? Every search I have done says there has never been a black bear fatality in MN as well as according to the DNR and USFWS. For all practical purposes I think we can all agree a bear in captivity doesn't count per this discussion as well but I'd still be interested in hearing about it.

BTW I bring bear spray...makes me feel better...and being prepared isn't bad.

T
 
uqme2
distinguished member (118)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
10/05/2022 03:04PM  
Minnesotian: "
In Quetico, they don't even mention bears when getting your permit because of the infrequent encounters there. And when there are aggressive bears in the BWCA, hunters usually provide a solution."


In Q they may casually ask about your itinerary and offer advice like: "'Just to let you know, this island is not big enough for a sow to support two cubs so you may want to camp elsewhere."

I don't mean to be a buzzkill but there was this recently.

https://queticosuperior.org/blog/black-bears-raiding-campsites-around-mid-gunflint-trail-lakes/
 
Toggy
member (18)member
 
10/05/2022 03:14PM  
Someone was killed on Rainy Lake just across the border in 2019.

Article:
Bear attack Rainy Lake

Location:
Map


That being said, from the DNR:

There have been no fatal bear attacks in Minnesota. The closest bear attack-fatality occurred just across the border in Ontario in 2019.

Since 1987, there have been eight unprovoked bear attacks in Minnesota that resulted in hospitalization. All 10 victims fully recovered.
 
Savage Voyageur
distinguished member(14249)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished membermaster membermaster member
 
10/05/2022 04:45PM  
Black bears in Minnesota want nothing to do with you, they only want your food.
 
straighthairedcurly
distinguished member(1605)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
10/05/2022 08:05PM  
timatkn: "Gadfly: "wette: "
It absolutely shocks me that there has never been a fatal bear attack in MN... with that in mind I will continue to leave the bear spray at home :) "




This is false. There have been two however one of the fatalities was from a captive bear. "



I don't think this is false? Care to share the attack in MN when a black bear killed someone? Every search I have done says there has never been a black bear fatality in MN as well as according to the DNR and USFWS. For all practical purposes I think we can all agree a bear in captivity doesn't count per this discussion as well but I'd still be interested in hearing about it.


BTW I bring bear spray...makes me feel better...and being prepared isn't bad.


T"


Bear attack stats This site indicates a fatal attack in 1965 in Aitkin, MN while a man was fishing.
 
gravelroad
distinguished member(771)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
10/05/2022 08:48PM  
I grew up in MN and worked for many years as a SAR responder in AK, MN, NH and WA. Those warnings you saw in the Evergreen State are way, way overblown.

The one place to keep a sharper eye on black bears is AK, where predaceous attacks have been more frequent than in the Lower 48. (Canada has had some as well.)
 
10/05/2022 09:08PM  
Found it on wikipedia under a list of fatal bear attacks…someone needs to tell the DNR :)

1965 in Aikin County. If you search the persons name, name and fatal bear attacks or fatal bear attacks in MN, you get nothing on the web. You’d think it would be easier to find…and since it is Wikipedia, it still isn’t 100% verified :) but I have no reason to doubt it. You can find it listed on other websites such as the one listed above, but still you’d expect more…especially since it is allegedly the only one.

I guess if it is that hard to find sort of tells us it is so rare it’s not worth worrying about…

T

 
ChristineCanoes
senior member (88)senior membersenior member
 
10/05/2022 09:13PM  
Bears absolutely can kill people who are canoe camping but it is rare. I don’t think bears are fundamentally different in the BW. I think the number of people and the number of bears combined with generally responsible food practices make it fairly unlikely but not impossible.
 
carbon1
senior member (94)senior membersenior member
 
10/06/2022 05:31AM  
Just listing or talking about fatal bear attacks is misleading.

None fatal attacks are far more common. Just search for bear attacks.

Oh it was just a non fatal attack .

A non fatal attack can be very costly tens of thousands of dollars in hospital bills and life changing injuries.

Here is just the latest predatory attack. Life altering injuries

Bear attack BC

True wilderness bears who do not know humans and those who are to familiar with humans are the most dangerous.

Bears that are hunted and know that humans are dangerous are respectful and leave when humans are around.
 
10/06/2022 05:54AM  
Carbon1…that’s why most of us mentioned number of attacks and not just fatal attacks. In MN in the last 35 years there have been 8 bear attacks where people were injured ( one off those is now believed to be a dog (2019 Ely area) and not a bear after DNA evidence—so probably 7). Of course it can happen…but that dog jogging down the portage you bend over to pet is something like 60,000x more likely to kill/injure you…or lightning or drowning is something like a million times more likely to kill you on a trip.

Not talking to Carbon1 anymore but it is fascinating how humans will pick and choose what to be scared or diligent of…I’ve known people strapping a sidearm and barely ever wearing a life vest. If you analyze the stats on what could kill them and had the same fear or respect for what a bear could do vs. water they’d sleep and drive in a PFD by comparison:) we all do it in everyday life I am not immune myself. So not throwing stones. Having some plan/knowledge whether it be bears, lightning, widow makers, using an axe, drowning etc… is good…it gives us the security to do a trip. Whatever you have to do to feel comfortable on trip is fine by me as long as it is legal and doesn’t affect me.
 
carbon1
senior member (94)senior membersenior member
 
10/06/2022 09:34AM  
In some places one is far more likely to get killed by a bear then other things.

Location, location is all important.
 
10/06/2022 07:51PM  
Where?

The most likely place to be killed or injured by a bear in the US is one of our top 6 national parks. In the last 116 years your chances of getting killed by a bear in a National Park is 1 in 352 million. Per the topic of this discussion in the BWCAW it is 1 to infinity since it hasn’t happened. To get injured by a bear in the BWCAW it is 1 in 6.2 million…that number would be higher but the BWCAW gets less visitors.

Don’t get me wrong I still hear noise the first night, I still have bear spray on many trips…I get why people might bring something else, but in the end most of us worry about the wrong things…instead of the actual most dangerous things. Perhaps that’s how we cope? Focus on the most insignificant risk so we aren’t paralyzed to do a trip. Happens in all facets of life. Just an interesting social experiment to me…

 
carbon1
senior member (94)senior membersenior member
 
10/07/2022 04:57AM  
Here are a couple areas where you are more likely to get killed by a bear then lightning,

bears and lightning
 
TechnoScout
distinguished member (423)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
10/07/2022 08:21AM  
Just sharing my bear experience.
I have done the BWCA 13 times for a total of about 500 miles of travel.
On one occasion on the S arm of Knife, we camped on that island that kinda looks like a dancing bear. A momma and her cub came into our camp and raided our food in midday while we were out fishing (I was with a crew that didnt believe in bear bags...lol--I do). We came back and she put some distance between us but did not leave...we figured we had a camp bear, so we knew that we might have a dangerous situation. We just threw everything in the canoes and hauled @ss.
Another time we were camped across from that same island and during the night, a bear came into our camp and walked around our tents. We had our food hung, and the bear did not have the desire to defeat our bearbag system, so she/he left. The next day we took a day trip the lake behind that campsite and I saw fresh bear tracks.
 
10/07/2022 03:23PM  
carbon1: "Here are a couple areas where you are more likely to get killed by a bear then lightning,


bears and lightning "


Thanks...I can't open it up on my work computer...super restrictive--I'll check it out when home, but my guess would be Alaska and maybe the far north tundra/arctic. I didn't think about it before but I've been to a Cliff Jacobsen symposium where he traveled areas where you were required to have a firearm if you tripped there. I think it had to be a 12 gauge capable of shooting rifled slugs for Polar Bears and Grizzlies.

T
 
DougD
distinguished member (147)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
 
10/08/2022 07:48AM  
timatkn: "carbon1: "Here are a couple areas where you are more likely to get killed by a bear then lightning,



bears and lightning "



Thanks...I can't open it up on my work computer...super restrictive--I'll check it out when home, but my guess would be Alaska and maybe the far north tundra/arctic. I didn't think about it before but I've been to a Cliff Jacobsen symposium where he traveled areas where you were required to have a firearm if you tripped there. I think it had to be a 12 gauge capable of shooting rifled slugs for Polar Bears and Grizzlies.


T"


The Sutton River travels through Polar Bear Provincial Park. You are required to have a 12 gauge shotgun with slugs.
 
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