All of the new backpackers I meet ask about bears. “Are there bears? Where are the bears? Have you ever been attacked by a bear? What do I do if I run into a bear?”
Honestly, despite the recent news stories, run ins with bears on the trails are pretty darn scarce. Yes, they live here. There are an estimated 25,000 black bears in Washington State, which is enough to have a hunting season on them. The state hands out several hundred tags to the thousands of applicants each year who want to hunt them. There are rumored to be a handful of Grizzly Bears (less than 10) in the North Cascades. But in general, run ins with bears are usually associated with large populations and national parks where hoards of people provide a potential food source for them. (No, not the people themselves, the food people bring with them.)
All Bear attacks in Washington State since 1920
According to Craig Bartlett of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife the following are the only bear attacks on record since 1920.
1) 1974. Glenwood, WA 4 year old killed by a bear
2) 1995. Sultan. 14 year old boy injured by bear
3) 2007. Kitsap County. A female hunter that was injured by a bear that she shot
4) 2008. Port Orchard. A male biker that was injured when he and his unleashed dogs encountered a bear on a corner
5) 2010. Lake Wenatchee
6) 2010. Gig Harbor (added after info was obtained from WDFW)
Still, if 6 attacks in 90 years is too many for you, this link will provide the Dept of Fish and Wildlife’s tips for staying safe if you find yourself in the company of bears.
The National Park Service is releasing an official report on nuisance and hazardous animals in National Parks this spring, including the anomalous goat attack in the Olympic National Park.