EUREKA - "It's the grizzlies you read about, but it's the black bears you should be watching."
So said Stan Anderson, who remains in a Kalispell hospital after being mauled by a black bear Sunday afternoon.
Anderson, 67, was walking a high forest road in the Pinkham Creek area, not far from his Eureka-area home, when he and his dog, Ole, bumped into a small cub.
"We had gone about a mile," he said, "and then we saw this little cub on the side of the road. It was about half a block away. I said to Ole, 'we had better clear out of here.' "
Ole, a 3-year-old chocolate Lab, was eager to high-tail it back to the car.
"Ole normally goes after moths and butterflies - their shadows, actually, not the real thing - and when he hears a noise in the woods he comes running to hide behind me. He's not one to take on a bear," Anderson said.
But on Sunday, that's exactly what Ole did.
Anderson and Ole turned their backs on the cub - a move he admits was a mistake - and headed toward the car.
"That's when I heard mama coming," Anderson said. "I turned around, and she was coming like an express train. She covered that half block in about three seconds. She reached out with her paw and slashed my face, and she darn near got my eye."
And as the sow grabbed at Anderson's head, Ole gnawed away on the bear's legs and rump, eventually driving it off.
"Make sure you put Ole's name in big black letters," Anderson said. "He's the hero. I kid you not, I'd be dead if it wasn't for him. He saved my life twice that day."
Twice because the bear was not satisfied with her first attack.
"She ran back to her cub and then she charged again," Anderson said. "The second time, she knocked me down and bit into my arm. She started happily munching on my left arm. I though I was going to die; I thought I was dead. I though she was going to go for my neck next."
Instead, she chewed her way down his arm toward his hand, all the time distracted by a biting and growling Ole.
"Ole didn't get a scratch, but he chased that bear off a second time. That's when we decided to move even faster toward the car. I had blood running down into my eye, and I thought I was blind, which didn't help my temperament any. We got to the car, and I was feeling pretty woozy and was scared I might pass out, but Ole kept licking my ear and kept me awake."
Three miles down the mountain road, Anderson came to a neighbors house, and before long he was stretched out in an ambulance racing for North Valley Hospital in Whitefish. He was later transferred to Kalispell Regional Medical Center, where he underwent plastic surgery on his face.
While in the emergency room, Anderson was able to remain alert enough to direct a wildlife specialist to the attack site via cell phone, where blood but no bear was found. A trap has been set, however, and the bear will be killed if caught.
Anderson, a 20-year resident of Eureka and retired school teacher, has mixed feelings toward the bear that almost cost him all.
"I don't harbor it any particular grudge," he said, "because it was just protecting its cub. But about this coming after me the second time, well, I can't abide that. That was just a dirty trick."
The real lesson, he said, is that black bears are not cuddly, cute and content to munch grass.
"I want everyone who reads this to get all their food put away, all the bird seed and pet food and everything else," he said, "because it will bring in black bears, and black bears are just as deadly as grizzlies."
The experts agree. State game damage specialist Erik Wenum said that although most people do not consider black bears dangerous, they injure far more people nationwide than do grizzlies. For years Wenum has worked to encourage rural residents to clean up their act, hoping that by removing the food sources people can reduce the risk.
And when away from home, wildlife officials recommend traveling in groups when walking in bear country, and advise carrying bear spray as an added precaution. Anderson, who was alone with Ole had no spray, and said he would no
t have had time to use it if he had. Nevertheless, he is planning on carrying it on his next outing.
And that outing, he said will likely be nowhere near Pinkham Creek. He will walk Ole elsewhere.
"No, we won't go walking in that particular area," he said. "We'll stick closer to the house, I think."
Bears keeping wardens busy
KALISPELL - Two black bears were found dead Saturday north of Bigfork, bringing the number of Flathead-area bears that have died under questionable circumstances to four in as many weeks.
On May 15, a grizzly bear was found shot to death near Hungry Horse Reservoir, and one week later another grizzly was found dead in the Swan Valley. On Saturday, the two black bears were discovered near Echo Lake. The investigation into their deaths continues.
John Fraley, of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, was reluctant to discuss any of the bear deaths, as all involve ongoing investigations. The four open investigations, however, point to a busy spring for wildlife managers.
"We have a big region," Fraley said, "and we have a lot going on."
In fact, the investigations into the four bear deaths are but a small part of what's going on in Region 1. Bears have caused a number of concerns in recent weeks, as warm weather increased the bruins' activity. Last week, Fraley said, a grizzly near Whitefish scared a dog from its bowl of food, and when the dog ran off, the bear lumbered in pursuit. The dog ran around a building, where its owner was forced to scramble up a ladder in flight from the grizzly. The man ultimately drove the bear off by bombing it with paint cans.
Other bears were spotted in backyards and driveways, and one black bear was seen clambering around on decks north of Bigfork.
Fraley said biologists are not sure why there is so much bear activity this spring, but speculated it might have something to do with the fact that bears went to bed hungry last fall. A disappointing berry crop in the last summer meant poor nutrition for the bears, and many were forced into the valley to find food.
When they woke up, Fraley said, the bears may have picked up where they left off, remembering that human housing meant a free lunch.
Other factors could include the ever increasing number of human homes in what was at one time strictly bear habitat.
Nearly all of the spots where bears and humans have bumped into trouble this spring have been areas where people put out food for pets and livestock, or where people scatter food to attract wildlife like turkeys and deer, Fraley said.
He encouraged residents in rural areas to secure all food, including bird feeders, which can attract bears out of the woods and into areas where they become troublesome.
- Michael Jamison, Missoulian
Tuesday - 6/8/99