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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Moab Bear Attack Part Of Larger Trend In Bear Activity This Year

Photo of bear returning to wild.
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has responded to 255 incidents involving bears entering human's spaces in the past five years. Bears are typically caught and relocated to their natural habitat. The bear pictured was caught and released in 2015.

Updated 1:05 p.m. MDT 8/13/19: Bear activity is up in 2019, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR). As of July, 29 incidents involving bears had been reported, more than double the number of incidents reported by the same time last year. 

DWR spokesperson Faith Heaton Jolley said those incidents include bears entering campgrounds, as well as urban or suburban areas, and causing damage or simply moving things around.

“We have had an increase in the number of bears entering people’s territory and getting into garbage and coolers and things like that,” she said.

The DWR has responded to 255 incidents involving bears in the past five years, and has euthanized 50 bears. Jolley says the bears that are caught are euthanized if they do not show fear of humans, otherwise they are relocated back to their natural habitats. 

DWR biologists attribute the increase in incidents involving bears and humans this year to weather patterns. Bears in Utah went into hibernation hungrier than usual last year, they said, because of the dry weather. And bears woke up later this year because of the wet spring. Now, they are looking for food. 

“They’re thinking that is making the bears bolder,” Jolley said.

Only eight incidents in the past 15 years have resulted in a bear injuring a human, according to Jolley. The latest occurred on Friday, when a young bear bit a 13-year-old boy on the face. The boy was asleep at the Dewey Bridge campground near Moab, on the Colorado River, when the incident occurred. 

Photo of bear footprint in sand with yellow flag marker.
Credit Mark Hadley / Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
The Division of Wildlife Resources is working with USDA-Wildlife Services to track the bear, which was last seen headed toward the Colorado River.

“It’s unusual to have that kind of bear activity along the river corridor at those campgrounds, so we were all caught off guard,” said Lisa Bryant with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). 

The boy was rushed to the emergency room in Moab and then transported to a hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado, where he received cosmetic surgery. He is now home with his family, according to the BLM, the agency that runs the campground. They closed the site on Friday after the incident and reopened it Monday morning. 

DWR reported Tuesday that the bear was found within a mile of the campground and was euthanized after matching the tracks from the site.

The Moab incident is the second bear attack in Utah this summer, according to Jolley. A bear attacked a member of the Boy Scouts near Springville on June 18. That bear was euthanized after dogs tracked it down.

Kate Groetzinger is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southeast Bureau in San Juan County.

Kate joined KUER from Austin, Texas. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody School of Communication. She has been an intern, fellow and reporter at Texas Monthly, the Texas Observer, Quartz, the Texas Standard and Voces, an oral history project. Kate began her public radio career at Austin’s NPR station, KUT, as a part-time reporter. She served as a corps member of Report For America, a public service program that partners with local newsrooms to bring reporters to undercovered areas across the country.
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