A student at Salish Kootenai College in Montana is recovering in the hospital after being attacked and injured by an adult female grizzly with two yearling cubs on Friday, April 19.
The student had been hiking alone in a brushy area near Mud Creek when the attack occurred about two miles east of Highway 93 along the creek, just east of the college campus.
The injuries were serious but not life threatening and included broken bones in one arm, puncture wounds to a shoulder and a severely damaged ear likely caused by a swat from the bear. The young man was initially taken to a hospital in Ronan, Montana and then transferred by ambulance to Kalispell Regional Medical Center.
The college immediately alerted students via the Rave Alert System that a grizzly was in the vicinity and urged students to stay inside. It was later confirmed that the bear was never actually within the campus complex. Nevertheless classes were canceled, and the school closed down until Monday April 22.
“Bears are really common, especially this time of year, but I’ve worked here a number of years and never heard of this happening before,” said Dr. Elaine Frank, interim president at the college. “The sow was just protecting her cubs. I’m guessing he just surprised the bear.”
Germaine White, Information and Education Specialist with the tribe’s Natural Resource Department, referred to this as a “surprise encounter.” The bear was not put down.
“There were at least two adult bears in the Mud Creek area, both females,” she said. “The Flathead Indian Reservation has historically, and continues to be, black bear and grizzly bear habitat.”
Wildlife officers routinely monitor bears in the valley this time of year as the animals come out of hibernation. So far this year they have been spotted from Montana to Alaska and beyond. Despite that, encounters are infrequent. (Related: Xaxli’p Elder Mauled to Death by Bear in B.C.)
“The last known surprise encounter where a man sustained injuries was in October of 1996,” Germaine said. “That involved a pheasant hunter hunting in heavy brush in an area known to be grizzly habitat, and he walked right into it.”
Frank expressed relief that the student, who was not identified, did not sustain worse injuries.
“We’re extremely happy the student came out in shape he did,” Dr. Frank added. “Our thoughts go out to him and his family for what he went through during that time. Things could have been a lot worse for the student and the bear.”