LONG BEACH — A Long Beach-area woman was bitten at her home on Sandridge Road early Friday in what authorities believe was a black bear attack. The woman’s Schnauzer dog was killed before the woman drove the bear away with a broom.
Details are still emerging, but Mike Cenci, deputy chief of enforcement for the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, said Friday night that the woman, in her 60s, was bitten at about 3 a.m. Friday and sought treatment at the Ocean Beach Hospital emergency room. She is not being identified at this time.
She suffered deep puncture wounds to her upper thigh, with bite marks consistent with the dentition of a black bear, Cenci said. She was released from the hospital Friday and is expected to make a full recovery.
Based on reports from the scene, Cenci said it appears likely that the woman let her two dogs out to investigate a noise coming from her nearby garbage container. The Schnauzer encountered the bear, which killed it. The woman then grabbed her broom and was bitten as the bear made its escape, authorities believe.
“It bit and scratched its way through anything that stood between him and freedom,” Cenci said. He thinks “the bear didn’t go looking for trouble,” but rather was eating garbage and reacted violently when surprised by the woman and her dogs. Black bears in Western Washington generally do not kill living prey, so the dog was likely killed as a defensive reaction rather than to eat.
Cenci said the WDFW was not notified of the attack until later Friday morning. He made a rapid highway trip between Olympia and Long Beach, summoning a Karelian bear dog and its handler from Tacoma to join wildlife officers at the scene. But there had been precipitation in the meantime and the dog was unable to identify a likely trail for the fleeing bear.
Cenci said that evidence including the overturned garbage container and deep claw marks on the porch shows that one or more bears are often in the area.
WDFW has placed two large culvert-type bear traps in the vicinity to see if they can capture the right bear. If caught, it will be euthanized.
Cenci said there isn’t any indication that people in the immediate area of the attack have been feeding bears on purpose, but that there is much unsecured garbage to attract them. The presence of easy food has habituated the bears to being in dangerous proximity with humans, he said. “For a bear to be that close to a porch light is not normal,” Cenci said of the Sandridge attack scene.
The Long Beach Peninsula has been locked in a heated controversy since September over alleged bear-feeding by one or more residents, in violation of state law. The peninsula and the surrounding region of Pacific County host a thriving population of black bears. Some regard them as entirely benign and semi-domesticated, but WDFW has repeated warned of the likelihood of dangerous interactions like the one Friday morning.
This attack, the first resulting in a human injury in the area in many years, is certain to reignite a storm of argument over how best to live in a place where wildlife and humans live in close and usually uneventful contact.