SANDPOINT — A 60-year-old woman who was attacked by a black bear sow on the Chipmunk Rapids trail at Priest Lake on Tuesday was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, according to Idaho Department of Fish & Game officials.
Fish & Game wildlife conservation educator Phil Cooper said the woman and the bear abruptly crossed paths, prompting the bear to swiftly charge and attack her and her two dogs.
“The bear was on her in a fraction of a second,” Cooper said.
The woman assumed a fetal position to protect her vital organs after being knocked down by the bruin. The bear proceeded to bite and claw her head, on her side and her abdomen.
“These were very serious injuries and she lost a lot of blood,” said Cooper.
The woman used a mobile phone to call for help and a Life Flight Network helicopter evacuated her from the scene near the Priest Lake visitor’s center. She was flown to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center. Cooper said the woman’s prognosis is good and she may have already been released from the hospital.
A team and dogs and handlers tracked to the Priest River. The bear crossed the river and disappeared into the woods.
“The dogs tracked it to the river, but lost the track,” said Cooper.
They followed tracks on the other side of the river, but the teams were eventually too far afield from the site of the attack, which made identifying the particular bear involved in the attack problematic.
Fish & Game officials obtained the bear’s DNA from the woman’s clothing.
Cooper said the woman wasn’t doing anything to invite the encounter and nor did the bear. Officials later determined that the bear was with a cub and it was also near a ripening patch of huckleberry.
“She could have been defending her food source, but she was probably defending a cub,” Cooper said.
The bear lingered at the site of the attack for 30 minutes, prompting conservation officers to conclude that the cub was likely treed in the vicinity.
Area trails were closed on Wednesday, but they were reopened Thursday after biologists determined that the bear was not exhibiting abnormal behavior.
Fish & Game recommends that forest visitors make noise as they traverse a trail to avoid sudden bear encounters. The department also recommends that visitors to bear country equip themselves bear-repellent spray and having it in hand or close at hand via a belt loop or pack strap.
Stowing bear spray inside a pack renders it useless in the event of a sudden encounter, Cooper said.
If a grizzly bear attacks, Fish & Game counsels people to assume a fetal position. Fish & Game recommends people fight back with whatever is at their disposal if set upon by a black bear.
“We recommend you yell, punch and kick,” Cooper said.
Cooper also recommends walking dogs on leashes because a dog running ahead can encounter a bear, turn back and lead the bear back to its owner.