A Frederick County, Maryland, woman is recovering from a bear attack last month in Myersville that an expert believes was prompted by the way bears and dogs interact with each other.
Maryland Department of Natural Resources State bear biologist Harry Spiker believes the bear was provoked by the woman’s dogs that were running free, off-leash.
“This is a very rare occurrence; it’s only the second one recorded in Maryland’s history,” Spiker said.
The woman had been walking in an area that is a known travel corridor where the bears move frequently.
“Dogs and bears do not get along. And if the dogs are off leash, that makes the situation a little worse,” Spiker said.
If you feel you need protection walking in the woods, Spiker said bear pepper spray works well.
Bear managers across the nation report the No. 1 conflict complaint with bears is dogs, according to Stephanie Simek, Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources Black Bear Project leader.
“If you live in an area where there may be bears, it’s important to understand — before you let your dog out off-leash in the back yard — give a holler to scare off anything that might be in the yard, that kind of thing,” Simek said. “It’s those small steps, you know?”
Both Virginia and Maryland track bear food supplies of acorns.
“In a year where there are abundant acorns, which is their primary food source, the bears don’t have to move much to feed,” Spiker said.
But, when acorns are scarce, people may see bears more than usual as they roam wider territories in search of food. A bear’s range might extend from 10 to 50 square miles.
Acorn availability in Maryland this fall is a little better off in Washington County, but said to be “poor to spotty” in Garrett, Allegany and Frederick counties.
“And then there are other spots where there’s hardly any production at all,” Spiker said.
To prevent attracting bears and making them comfortable with people as a food source, homeowners are asked to keep trash well secured and to bring in bird feeders.
“I would not have a bird feeder out. I would wait until winter, maybe December, after the bulk of the bears are hibernating,” Spiker said.
Virginia acorn supplies are said to be very good this year, which Simek said suggests that the bears will fare well entering denning-hibernation season.
And, she anticipates a good harvest ahead for bear hunters in the Commonwealth.
Simek said 20 to 30 years ago, there were very few black bears in Virginia, but with land management and other measures, they now are a conservation success story.
“We’ve actually been able to recover the bear population to a very healthy level where we can have recreational harvest, as well as — people like to see bears” in the wild Simek said.
In the event that you find yourself in a situation with a bear and the bear does not flee, Spiker said
“Never ever run from a bear. A bear is just like a dog in than it has a chase reflex, so it may chase just for the sake of chasing if something runs from it. Don’t run from it. Stand your ground. Make yourself appear large. Wave your arms in the air. Talk to it in a calm voice. And back away. The most important thing is to make sure that it has an escape route. Try not to corner it. Back out,” he said.
And if that does not work, with black bears the general rule of thumb is fight back; don’t play dead. Bear attacks have been thwarted by people hitting with backpacks and anything they have.
Again Spiker wants to reiterate how rare these incidences are, so “Continue to enjoy nature.”