A mountain biker killed by a bear in Montana appears to mark only the second time a cyclist has died after such a confrontation, but there could be lessons in the incident for Alaskans who regularly ride in bear country.
Authorities in northern Montana say 38-year-old Brad Treat, a U.S. Forest Service enforcement officer, was riding near Glacier National Park with a friend when attacked Wednesday afternoon.
“The initial investigation suggests the two bikers surprised the bear around 2 p.m. and Treat was taken off his bike by the animal. The second rider was able to escape uninjured and summon help,” the Flathead (Mont.) Beacon reported.
There is no indication that either of the riders were carrying bear-repelling pepper spray, a product now widely recommended for back-country cyclists, hikers and mountain runners in Alaska. And if they were carrying it, it appears it wasn’t used although the spray has prevented maulings of cyclists in Alaska.
Mountain biker Tyler Nord saved a friend from a grizzly which attacked a trio of cyclists on the Resurrection Pass Trail in 2010. The bear was on top of 25-year-old Kyle Eisenbach, a friend on vacation from Portland, when Nord pepper sprayed it.
“Nord got real close and pulled the trigger, aiming at the sow’s face,” Anchorage Daily News reporter Megan Holland wrote. “‘She (the bear) had a stunned look,’ he said of after the chemicals hit her.
“He sprayed again. In a flash she was gone into the woods.”
Instead of driving the bear off Treat, his riding partner went for help, and by the time help returned, Treat was dead, according to reports.
Prompt responses to bear attacks can be vital to survival. The speedy response of an Alaska cyclist in 2008 has been credited with saving the life of then 15-year-old Petra Davis. Well-known Iditarod Trail Invitational cyclist Peter Basinger came on her moments after a bear attacked and left her for dead on an Anchorage trail during a 24-hour mountain bike race.
Basinger picked Davis up, carried her to what he thought to be a safer location, called for a help on a cell phone and started first aid. Davis, who likely would have bled to death with a ruptured carotid artery if not for the medical attention of Basigner and others, spent some time in the hospital, but recovered and is back to mountain biking Alaska trails.
At least one other Alaska cyclists has since been attacked on a trail on the edge of the state’s largest city, but no one has been seriously injured. Meanwhile, there have been dozens of encounters with both grizzly and black bears that have ended without any problems.
The only cyclist killed by a bear before Treat was 31-year-old Robin Kochorek from Calgary, British Columbia. She was in 2007 attacked by a black bear on a trail near the Panorama Ski Resort in the eastern part of that province. Authorities found the bear near Kochorek’s body and killed it.
The bear that attacked Treat is believed to have been a grizzly. It has not been found. Grizzlies are, in general, bigger, stronger and more aggressive than black bears.
The Beacon reported Treat’s death was the first in Northwest Montana since 2001,when an elk hunter was killed on the Blackfoot Clearwater Game Range. Grizzly bear attacks are rare in area. Since Glacier National Park was created in 1910,the newspaper reported, there have been only 10 fatal grizzly attacks in the national park.
That’s about one fatality per decade in an area home to an estimated 1,000 grizzlies, the largest population of the bears in the lower 48 states. Alaska, which has 20,000 to 30,000 bears, witnesses a fatal attack about every three years. At least three people – a hunter, a skier and a hiker – have been attacked by grizzlies in the state so far this year, but all have survived.
The take-way lessons from Montana seem simple: Ride with a buddy; make plenty of noise to warn bears you are coming on the trail, be sure you are both carrying bear spray in case the noise doesn’t work; and if one of you is attacked, use the spray to try to drive the bear off your partner.
It might be their only hope.