How rare is a bear attack in Minnesota?

Photo: Department of Natural ResourcesThe Department of Natural Resources says an Aitkin County woman is OK after being involved in something that almost never happens in Minnesota — an attack by a black bear.

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.

It’s only the fifth time the DNR has documented a bear attack on a person involving injuries since 1987.

In that year — 1987 — there were two bear attacks in the Superior National Forest in the BWCA, injuring Outward Bound campers. DNR officials hunted the bear down and killed it. But it remained a mystery why the bear attacked in the first place. At least one of the kids attacked had no food.

The account of the attack by bear researcher Lynn Rogers carried this advice:

If you are attacked, use every available weapon, including your feet and fists, to fight the bear. Do not play dead when attacked by a black bear. Black bears that attack people often hesitate at first, just as this bear did, and aggressive action by people at that time could dissuade the rare attacks. A harmless means of repelling bears that approach too closely is spraying them in the eyes with capsaicin repellent. Capsaicin, the active ingredient of hot peppers, is sold commercially as “Dog Shield” and “Halt” and is commonly used as a dog repellent by mail carriers and meter readers. It has been found to repel black bears as effectively as it does dogs. In several hundred tests, no bear appeared angered by the spray. Most immediately retreated without a sound. A few have returned shortly to retreat when sprayed again. This spray could discourage bears not only from attacking but also from becoming nuisances at campgrounds.

As near as we can tell, the last time a black bear attacked a woman in Minnesota was in 2005 when Mary Munn of Holyoke was attacked as she walked to a beaver pond. She told her story to then-MPR reporter Bob Kelleher.

“When I came out of the woods, there was a bear, standing, looking right at me about 30 feet away, and it immediately charged me,” Munn said. “I ran a couple of steps but I turned around, because I didn’t want to be tackled from behind. And it stopped and just snorted at me and dashed away about 10 feet. And then it came right back at me again.”

Mann says the bear was maybe desk-high on all fours. But when it stood on its hind legs, it was about six feet tall. Munn says it came at her with its head lowered. She’d been holding a stick, which she broke across the bear, to no effect.

“I punched it in the nose — I mean, each time it charged me. I whistled for my dog to distract the bear, and the dog ran by behind the bear, and the bear went after the dog, and as soon as the dog outran the bear, the bear came back and chased at me again,” Mann said.

“At that point it took a swipe out of my knee, and the dog went by again, and it chased the dog again, and I looked at my knee and it really hurt bad, and I kind of went “ahhh.” And the bear heard me and came back,” Mann said.

She survived, obviously, needing a rabies shot since black bears have been known to carry the disease.

At the time, the DNR said there’s no “right way” to fend off a black bear attack since they are so rare.

Since 2010, there have been three deaths from bear attacks in North America, the last occurring in Arizona when a woman was set upon while walking her dog at a country club.

But the vast majority of attacks and deaths from black bears have taken place in Canada.

The numbers say you have very little chance of being harmed by a black bear. The Wildlife Research Institute says you’re 45 times more likely to be killed by a dog than by a bear, 120 times more likely to be killed by bees than a bear, and 250 times more likely to be killed by lightening than a bear. But, for the record, there is a case of a man who was not only struck by lightning, but also mauled by a bear.

Update 5:33 p.m. An e-mailer suggests the post should have been held until after there was information about what happened to the bear cubs. The DNR says they’re on their own and they’re old enough to be on their own. The woman’s dog, however, is still missing.