Bear attacks Camper in Desolation Canyon

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The first case in 11 years of a bear attacking a camper in Utah happened July 7, at 6:15 a.m., when a black bear wandered into a campsite along the Green River in Desolation Canyon in east-central Utah.

The camp was occupied by students and instructors of the Outdoor Leadership School in Jensen, Utah. All of the campers were sleeping in the open, in a circular pattern with their feet at the center of the circle, when the bear attacked.

The bear grabbed 18-year-old Nick Greez of Oregon by the head and neck and tried to drag him from his sleeping bag. Nick's screams awakened the others, who came to his rescue and chased the bear away.

After administering first aid, the group floated Greez from the Desolation Canyon area to the town of Green River. Greez was then taken to the Castle View Hospital in Price, where he was treated for puncture wounds and lacerations before being released.

The Ute Tribe and the Division of Wildlife Resources are working cooperatively to locate and destroy the bear, which will be tested for rabies and any other disease or condition that may have contributed to the bear's behavior.

"Bear attacks like this are extremely rare, but they do occur," said Craig McLaughlin, mammals coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources. "Often, a bear becomes aggressive towards people after it establishes a pattern of obtaining food from camp sites and picnic areas. Fortunately, there are several things people can do to lessen the chance of a bear attacking them while they're camping."

McLaughlin says food and food odors are what usually attract bears to people and that by following a few simple rules, people can virtually eliminate problems with bears. He encourages people to do the following:

  • Keep your campsite clean. Don't leave garbage, food scraps and fat drippings in your fire pit, or scattered around your campsite. Instead, place them in an air tight container and take them home with you.
  • Keep the cooking grills and utensils in your camping area clean.
  • Don't leave food out. Instead, store food and coolers in the trunk of your car, in your camping trailer, in a bear proof container or suspended at least 12 feet high between two trees, so bears can't reach them. Plastic garbage cans and plastic food storage containers are not bear proof.
  • Never intentionally feed bears by leaving food out for them.
  • Bears have an incredible sense of smell, so make sure you cook away from your tent or sleeping area. Also, don't sleep in the clothes you cooked in or wore while cleaning fish. Leave those clothes, along with utensils, rags and anything else used in food preparation, cooking, eating and clean up, at the cooking area or sealed inside a vehicle.

In addition to these tips, the Division of Wildlife Resources also offers several bear safety items to the public. People can receive an If You Encounter a Black Bear handout card and a Life Cycle of Utah Black Bears magazine article by contacting most DWR offices or Bob Walters at (801) 538-4771.

By late July, campground placards, picnic table bear safety cards and a "Camping With Bears" video will be available to those who run campgrounds in areas where bears live in Utah. These items will be delivered to campgrounds across the state. Campground hosts can also receive them in late July by contacting most DWR offices or Walters.