“The remains of the victim have been sent to the state medical examiner for autopsy and to make a positive ID,” troopers spokesman Tim DeSpain emailed. “That is likely to happen Monday or early next week.”
Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists who are assisting troopers and Chugach National Forest officials in investigating the attack have, meanwhile, been able to provide some more details of what they believe happened.
Agency spokesman Rick Green on Friday said the victim of the deadly attack was clearing a primitive trail through thick brush up a mountain to the west of the old and now largely abandoned mining community of Sunrise along the Hope Highway when he encountered the bear.
Sunrise is about 25 miles southeast of Alaska’s largest city on the opposite side of Turnagain Arm – a shallow, muddy, 45-mile-long fiord that divides the Chugach Mountains to the north from the Kenai Mountains to the south.
Because of that barrier, Sunrise is a long way by road from the Anchorage Metropolitan area home to more than half the Alaska population and would be considered a remote community by most modern standards.
It is, however, unlikely the area is home to any more bruins than Anchorage, which boasts healthy populations of both black and grizzly bears around and regularly in parts of the city.
Alaskans generally learn to accept the risk of living with the bears and go about their lives, or retreat to the metro area and avoid the wildlands.
Bear attacks in the state now average about 7.6 per year, according to a study by biologists Stephen Herrero and Tom Smith, but fatalities remain uncommon even among those attacked.
Fewer than 10 percent of those that the study reported attacked from 2000 to 2015 died from their injuries.
The Sunrise attack came without warning. There were no reports of a problem bear in the area before the fatal encounter.
Friends who went looking for the trail maker after his dog came home alone stumbled upon a horrific scene that made it obvious there was no hope the man had survived, Green said.
Wildlife biologists on the scene Thursday put out snares in hopes of capturing the bear and game cameras to try to get a picture if the animal returned to the scene, but there has been no sign of the bear.
Cyndi Wardlow, the regional supervisor for the Division of Wildlife Conservation, said evidence believed to have been left at the site by the bear was collected, and efforts are underway to determine if the samples contain viable DNA.
DNA testing could confirm whether the bear was a black or a grizzly and identify its sex. DNA testing for the sex of animals has become almost commonplace in the past decade.
The evidence found at the scene of the killing strongly indicated the bear was a grizzly, Green said, but that has yet to be confirmed. Alaska grizzlies are considered significantly more dangerous than the state’s black bears, though both species sometimes kill people.
The risks of being killed by either species of bear are actually tiny. The National Park Service put them at 1 in 2.7 million for Yellowstone National Park, which boasts the largest concentration of grizzly bears in the Lower 48 states.
The odds are likely slightly higher for Alaska given more bears and thus a greater likelihood of encounters, but even at one in a million, they would pale against other risks.
The risk from death in a bear attack are so low they fail to make the list compiled by the National Safety Council which rates “exposure to excessive natural heat” as the nation’s greatest outdoor danger. The lifetime odds it will kill you are 1 in 16,584.
“Hornets, wasps and bees,” cataclysmic storms, dogs and lightning strikes also make the list but are decidedly less risky than heat. The insects come in second at a rate of 1 in 63,225.
None of the nature causes begin to compare to the death rates for motor vehicle crashes, 1 in 114, or suicide, 1 in 96, or especially disease. The odds of dying of heart disease or cancer are put at 1 in 7, and the odds of death from the latter have only grown worse in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic hitting heavily at people suffering such comorbidities.
Risks for those with heart disease have not been quantified, but a study team from the Centers for Disease Control this week noted heart disease as another comorbidity that shows “strong and consistent evidence” of increasing risks for COVID-19.
Fat was the leading risk. The study reported 30.9 percent of U.S. residents are at risk because of a body mass index score “greater than or equal to 30 kilograms per meter squared.”
To reach that score, a 5-foot, 5-inch tall woman would need to weigh about 180 pounds, and a 5-foot, 11-inch man would need to weigh about 216 pounds.
Much of the country’s obesity problem has been linked to lack of exercise and diet. One could almost take it to mean that sitting around in the safety of one’s home could now be more dangerous than venturing into the outdoors to engage in exercise even if there are bears out there.
But the bears are without a doubt scarier than the couch.