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Blue Ridge Parkway National Park Bear Attack

Why we support Park officials' approach

Author: NCWRC blogger/Friday, October 1, 2021/Categories: Blog, Wildlife Management

Blue Ridge Parkway National Park Bear Attack

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission was contacted by the Blue Ridge Parkway regarding a bear attack that occurred on September 29, 2021 at the Folk Art Center located on the parkway.

A couple was having a picnic on a grassy hill near the Folk Art Center when they were alerted to a bear by their dog. The unleashed dog ran towards the bear while barking and the bear acted defensively towards the dog. While the unleashed dog resulted in the bear’s initial reaction, the victims quickly called their dog back, retreated from the scene and defended themselves during the retreat, all of which were the absolute right reactions. However, despite their retreat, and despite having a clear escape route, the bear approached and attacked the couple. Over several minutes, the bear repeatedly attacked the couple as they tried to retreat to the safety of their vehicle. While in retreat, the male subject fought off the bear, which allowed the female subject and dog to get into their vehicle. Once they were all in the vehicle, the bear continued to attack the vehicle and climbed on the top of the car. The couple were both injured in the attack, but thankfully were released from the hospital and are recovering at home.

Black bears are rarely aggressive when encountered in the wild. Most human-bear conflicts can be prevented or resolved by implementing the BearWise Basics, whether at-home or outdoors. The Wildlife Commission and the Blue Ridge Parkway is understanding of typical black bear behavior and find that most situations can be resolved by having people change their behavior, such as securing attractants (e.g., trash) keeping pets leashed and not approaching or feeding bears.

In this attack, the bear’s behavior escalated from defensive to aggressive. When bears act defensively, they will withdraw as soon as they view the threat is gone. However, the bear in this situation did not withdraw but continued to attack the victims, despite the couple taking appropriate actions (calling their dog, rather than physically retrieving their dog, and retreating away from the bear to the safety of their vehicle). This bear’s behavior is not typical of  a bear acting in a defensive manner.

Staff at the Wildlife Commission and the Blue Ridge Parkway do not take lightly the decision to euthanize a bear, but because this particular bear was very aggressive, it is likely to repeat the behavior and presents a serious public safety concern.

Relocation of the bear is not an option due to the dangerous behavior of the bear. In addition, the bear would attempt to return to its home range and original site of capture. Several studies have documented their amazing homing ability. They are either successful or are hit by a car, frequently dying in attempting to do so. Here is a link explaining why relocation of bears is not an option for resolving conflicts with bears: N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission Will Not Trap or Relocate Bears

Capturing the bear and placing it in captivity is also not an option, as adult wild black bears do not cope well with permanent captivity. It actually would be inhumane to implement this option. While this idea makes a lot of people feel better about the outcome, wild bears are stressed to the point that they have severe mental and physical issues in captivity.

While the Blue Ridge Parkway is the jurisdictional authority involved in investigating and resolving this situation, since the attack occurred on Blue Ridge Parkway property, the Wildlife Commission supports the decision to attempt to capture and euthanize the responsible bear due to the aggressive nature of the attack. If the bear is captured and positively identified as the offending bear by using DNA evidence collected at the scene, the bear will be humanely euthanized and sent to a lab to determine if there were any factors (e.g., disease, health) that may have contributed to its aggressive behavior.

We realize some are upset by this situation, but you can do something by helping us promote the BearWise message to your friends and neighbors. Implementing the Six BearWise Basics At-Home and Outdoors, and knowing what to do if you encounter a bear will help keep both bears and people safe.

Media inquiries and questions about this incident should be directed to Lessa Brandon, 828-348-3420 and Caitlin Worth, 828-348-3406.

Photo credit: Tim Donovan/FWC

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