The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is advising people in the Northland to exercise vigilance in the wake of a bear attack last week.
A 16-year-old girl was bitten by a bear while jogging on a narrow, heavily forested path between cabins near White Iron Lake, east of Ely, at about 4:30 p.m. Monday, July 22, according to a notice published by the Minnesota DNR. She received wounds to her thigh and went to a local hospital, where she was treated and released.
“She didn’t see the bear until it started running at her from behind,” said Dan Stark, a large-carnivore specialist for the DNR. “It bit her in the leg, but she was able to pull away from it. She continued to run to try to get away from it, and then it stopped when she reached kind of an opening.”
That same evening, a DNR conservation officer found a bear at a garbage bin near the location of the attack. The bear reportedly showed no fear of people, and the DNR officer killed the animal, a 240-pound male.
A notice said: “At this time, based on its behavior, the DNR believes the bear that was killed was the same bear that bit the jogger, based on its behavior, proximity in both space and time between the biting and the bear’s appearance at the garbage bin, and no bear activity at the garbage bin since the bear was killed.”
The DNR said it has yet to definitively link the killed bear to the attack but is conducting DNA testing to confirm the animal was involved in the incident. Those tests could take several weeks to complete.
The bear did not have rabies and did not appear to be undernourished.
The incident is the 15th recorded bear attack in state history.
The DNR advises people to be wary of bears that exhibit no fear of humans and avoid approaching them.
“It’s not something you would expect for a bear to run up behind somebody and bite them,” Stark said.
“Because of the description of the location, it likely was close enough that it was startled, and it was more of a defensive reaction and not a predatory instinct. The girl pulled away and was able to get away because it stopped pursuing her. If she would have got knocked down or something like that, it could have been much worse,” he said.
Stark said bears that routinely interact with people and associate them with food can become habituated to their presence.
“The feeding and the behavior that develop from that are just contributing to bears being a little more bold and acting less wild around people,” he said.
The bear suspected in the attack had found a food source at the garbage bin where he was killed, and Stark said active feeding of wildlife also was occurring in the nearby area.
“The more often bears are coming into contact with people, the more often these kinds of incidents can happen, whether they’re responding defensively or more aggressively,” he said.
If you encounter a bear, the DNR advises you to speak loudly, act aggressively and do not run.
The state also strongly discourages anyone from feeding bears, as this activity could lead to other misbehavior and potentially violent encounters.
“If you go anywhere in the country where bears may be attracted to human food, the recommendation is to prevent that. Keep your campsite clean. Keep your garbage and food secure. The same goes for your cabin, your vehicles or anything like that, because the more access they have, the more likely they’re going to come back and continue to be around,” Stark said. “Eventually, that can lead to negative interactions that aren’t good for bears or people.”