Kalispell, MT — The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Wildlife Human Attack Response Team (WHART) has completed its investigation into the bear attack that occurred last month in the Poorman Creek Drainage of the Cabinet Mountains south of Libby, Montana.

At approximately 11 a.m. on May 17, 2018, an adult woman working as a field assistant for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on a grizzly bear research project sustained serious injuries after surprising an adult male grizzly bear. During the attack, the victim managed to deploy bear spray, which deterred the animal and forced it to flee the area.

The attack, described by investigators as a surprise defensive encounter, occurred after the victim walked within 11-12 feet of the bear. Neither the bear nor the victim could likely see or hear each other due to environmental factors and noise resulting from nearby high-water runoff and rain and wind, according to WHART Lead Investigator Brian Sommers. The bear was in front of and to the left of the woman prior to the attack.

Following the attack, the victim activated her Garmin inReach Global Satellite device that sent out an emergency notification. She walked approximately 2 miles from the scene to her vehicle and drove an additional 3 miles before encountering another vehicle, which transported her to an ambulance. Along U.S. Highway 2, ALERT Air Ambulance arrived and transported her to Kalispell Regional Medical Center.

DNA analysis of hair collected in the investigation identified the bear as a 24-year-old male grizzly bear that was previously captured in 2005 as part of a research project. The bear has spent its entire life in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem and is one of the original grizzly bears in the ecosystem, according to Wayne Kasworm, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Grizzly Bear Biologist and team leader for grizzly bear recovery in the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem. The grizzly bear is not an augmentation bear.

Over the years, this bear has left numerous hair samples on scratch and rub sites throughout the ecosystem, which spans approximately 2,600 square miles across the Yaak Valley and the Cabinet and Purcell mountain ranges of northwest Montana and northern Idaho. The ecosystem is home to a relatively small population of grizzly bears estimated at 53 bears.

The WHART investigation included on-site visits, victim interviews, evidence collection and analysis.

Northwest Montana is bear country with populations of grizzlies and black bears. Bears are active in springtime and residents are asked to please secure attractants around their properties. Recreationists are urged to be “Bear Aware” and follow precautionary steps and tips to prevent conflicts.

General tips to stay safe in bear country:

  • Carry and know how to use bear pepper spray for emergencies.
  • Travel in groups of three or more people whenever possible and plan to be out in the daylight hours.
  • Watch for signs of bears such as bear scat, diggings, torn-up logs and turned over rocks, and partly consumed animal carcasses.
  • Make your presence known by talking, singing, carrying a bell, or other means, especially when near streams or in thick forest where visibility is low. This can be the key to avoiding encounters. Most bears will avoid humans when they know humans are present.
  • Use caution in areas like berry patches where bears occur.
  • Don’t approach a bear; respect their space and move off.
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