Officials at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve say that a 39-year-old hunter was injured in a grizzly bear attack on Wednesday, September 8. The hunter, Jason Long of Eagle River, Alaska, was alone when he was attacked.
According to Long, he was hiking in the drainage of the Chisana River when he was attacked by a sow with two cubs. Long sustained multiple puncture wounds and lacerations in the incident.
After being attacked, Long used his Garmin InReach satellite messaging device to call for help. Soon after he activated the SOS button on the device, the Air National Guard and the National Park Service launched a rescue mission.
The Park Service’s official press release states that the Air National Guard deployed a 210th Rescue Squadron HH-60 Pave Hawk II from Eielson Air Force Base. Interestingly, the air rescue detachment was already in the air at the time of the emergency conducting a routine mission. The rescue team placed two pararescue personnel on the ground to coordinate the evacuation.
Although the Park Service did not provide more details about Long, who was transferred to Providence Alaska Medical Center, the official press release notes that he was in stable condition when he arrived at the hospital.
Alaska Bear Attack Incident Analysis
The grizzly bear attack on September 9 is the second in about two weeks in Alaska. On August 24, a 55 year-old hiker was attacked by a grizzly bear with two young cubs while hiking in Denali National Park. He was able to fend off the bear using bear spray before making his way to the park’s Eielson Visitor Center.
According to the press release, the park service has no intention of locating the bear involved in this most recent attack in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. The press release notes that “female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised.”
The fact that there have been two grizzly bear attacks in such a short period of time is surprising. In reality, grizzly bear attacks are quite rare, particularly if people practice proper bear safety precautions.
However, there are some interesting similarities with both incidents.
First, both hikers were alone at the time of their attacks. Bears are substantially less likely to attack humans that are traveling in groups, even when caught by surprise. Although there are benefits and advantages to solo hiking, there are also real risks that come with doing so in bear country.
Additionally, both hikers were attacked by sows with cubs toward the end of the summer. The summertime is an important time for bears as this is the season where they rear their young. As such, sows are often on high alert and are particularly defensive around this time. This makes taking proper precautions when in bear country ever the more important.
We should note that the Park Service did not mention whether Long had bear spray on him while on his hunting trip. The hiker from the bear attack in Denali did have bear spray that he used to successfully fight off an attack.
Ultimately, we can’t say whether bear spray would have made a difference for Long as it’s unclear whether he had it with him. But it’s worth highlighting the fact that bear spray has been shown to be a very effective tool when faced with a negative bear encounter.
Always carry bear spray in an accessible place when hiking in bear country (except where it is prohibited by law). Stay alert, consider hiking in groups, and avoid dense foliage whenever possible while in known bear terrain. Doing so can help you avoid startling bears, reducing your risk of negative bear encounters while in the backcountry.