2010-06-30 / News

Bear still at large

By ROGER ALFORD
Associated Press Writer

FRANKFORT

A black bear that mauled a hiker eluded traps Tuesday and a scenic area in the Daniel Boone National Forest remained closed to the public following the rare attack by an Appalachian bear on a human.

Wildlife officers hadn’t been able to find the animal that attacked, bit and shook Tim Scott of Springfield on Sunday in a remote area near Stanton in eastern Kentucky, state tourism spokeswoman Barbara Atwood said.

“They had a bear sighting yesterday. However, they could not confirm that it was the bear in question,” Atwood said. “But they feel confident the bear is still in the area.”

Scott, 56, survived and was released from a Lexington hospital Monday, when he spoke with reporters.

Scott said he was hiking in the Red River Gorge Geological Area ahead of his wife and son when he spotted the bear about 25 feet away. He said it appeared to be about 150 pounds and he took a few photos with his cell phone until the bear disappeared under a ledge. Scott said he was about to call his wife to tell her to take another trail when the bear reappeared.

Scott said he yelled and dropped his belt bag, hoping to distract the animal. The bear just sniffed the bag and continued approaching Scott, who grabbed a rotted branch and hit the bear. But the animal kept coming.

Eventually, the bear “lunged forward and grabbed me a bit, but let go.”

Scott tried to move behind a tree for protection a couple of times, but he said the bear grabbed him by the leg and threw him. Then, he said, it sank its teeth into his thigh and shook him.

Anthony Gobel of Fowler, Ind., was among a small group of hikers who heard the commotion and came to Scott’s rescue. Gobel, a muscular 28-year-old service technician who climbs wind turbines for a living, estimated the bear weighed about 400 pounds.

“I’m a 200-pound man, and he was definitely twice my size,” Gobel told The Associated Press. “His head was bigger than a basketball.”

Gobel said his group was able to chase the bear away from Scott. “Once there was enough space between the bear and Mr. Scott, I got between them. He was pretty upset with me and lunged at me.”

Gobel swung his pack.

“I hit him as hard as I could,” he said. “I think it just stunned him. He wasn’t ready for anything like that.”

Gobel said the bear followed the group for about a half mile. When they were a safe distance away, Gobel said he put his belt around Scott’s leg to stop the bleeding.

“It was a pretty traumatic experience,” Gobel said. “At the time, I just wasn’t thinking really. I just reacted. I just used my instincts.”

He added, “I’m thinking God put me there for a reason. It’s not a trip that we had planned. It just happened.”

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources said it was the first recorded bear attack on a person in the state that they’re aware of.

Wildlife Division Director Karen Waldrop said the agency’s policy is to kill any bear that behaves aggressively toward humans, and officials have closed the popular scenic area and set traps. Atwood said the closure should help keep the bear from being scared out of the area.

Black bears were common in Kentucky more than 100 years ago but disappeared due to over-hunting and loss of habitat. Over the past 20 years, they have found their way back from neighboring states such as Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

The U.S. bear population more than doubled between 1989 and 2006, rising from 165,000 to over 350,000, according to The International Association of Bear Research and Management, a bear conservation nonprofit that takes a periodic census of the animals. The Eastern states alone now have about 163,000 bears. Estimates of Kentucky’s bear population range from 100 to 350.

Biologists with the bear research group found nearly 20,000 reported conflicts between bears and humans in 37 states in a 2006 survey of state wildlife agencies. Those agencies also reported more than 1,300 bears struck by automobiles in 2008.

Most reported encounters involve hungry bears raiding backyard bird feeders or toppling garbage bins, but sometimes they’re much worse. In a 2006 attack, a 210-pound male bear killed a 6-year-old girl and mauled her 2-yearold brother as well as her mother who tried to fend off the animal. The attack occurred during a family outing in Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest.

Scott, an avid hiker who has a property management company in Lexington, said rogue behavior by one bear doesn’t change his support for efforts to repopulate the woods with the animals.

“He’s a bad bear, and he needs to be taken out of circulation,” Scott said. “But there’s an awful lot of good bears there that shouldn’t suff er because of what one bear did.”

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