Close Call/Serious Incident

Safety Alert Type: 
Planning and Engineering
Location: 
Purcell Point, BC
Date of Incident / Close Call: 
2007-11-03
Details of Incident / Close Call: 

On Saturday 3rd November a consultant working with me doing silviculture surveys at Purcell Point was confronted with what was undoubtedly a predatory black bear. The bear crept up on him silently while he was doing a plot, and even though there was only moderate brush he was unaware of the bear until it was about 10ft away from him. For the next 15 minutes he was fending off the bear with sticks, rocks and noise as the bear herded him into the corner of the block against the creek which is a very steep sided canyon.

The contractor was able to get me on his radio but under the stress of the situation did not make it clear to me exactly where he was and so I actually set off to help in what was not quite the right direction. It took me about 10 minutes before I got a falling corner number from him and managed to get down the steep timbered terrain to where he was. The contractor was blowing his whistle continuously which made it much easier to locate him once in the right vicinity. Although we both assumed the bear would take off when I joined him it did not, but by there being two of us we were able to scramble across the creek while still keeping the bear at a distance. However, we became "stuck" at the base of a very steep, wet slope we could not climb easily and at this point the bear came across the creek and climbed the bank to get above us and was only about 2m away on the other side of a log and a tree. At this point I decided to use the bear spray, as it was really just his head and upper shoulders that were visible as he prepared to push between the log / tree toward us. The spray hit the bear directly in the face (text book fashion) and after a few seconds of thinking about it, recoiled backwards and disappeared. We were then able to scramble up the creek further to a point we could get up the bank and then through the cut-block to the road, then up to where the atv was parked. The contractor said that as we climbed the bank he could see the brush thrashing around close to where we had been, no doubt as the bear tried to wipe the problem from his face. We went straight to the beach where we sheltered in a shop truck belonging to a road building crew until our water taxi arrived two hours later.

Learnings and Suggestions: 

Needless to say, the consultant was considerably shaken, and I am sure that was the most frightening experience of my adult life. The situation lasted about 15-20 minutes for him and he was pretty much exhausted. There are a number of points worth stressing, which although common sense are very much worth detailing:
1. It is impossible to rummage in your cruise vest for radios, maps, bear spray or whistles when you need two hands to fight off a bear / cougar. Obviously the contractor did not have his bear spray with him, but his radio, map, whistle were all in a chest pack where he was able to use them with one hand. He also had a large knife which he straps on the pack. It was only by having the radio and map easily accessible that I was eventually able to find him.
2. Be sure you know where your partner is working. We had spoken about ten minutes before the bear came at him, and we had discussed where he was and the route he was taking to get back
to the road where I was. However, there are lots of creeks and leave patches and I made the wrong assumption as to where he was at that point. It was not till I told him exactly which Fc I was by that he tried to find one on his map.
3. At the very least, always carry bear spray. There is no doubt it prevented the situation becoming a serious injury or even worse. The obvious solution is a gun, and I will most certainly be wasting no time getting one. I have been putting it off for years and that has nearly proved disastrous.
Specifically, in terms of Bute inlet we all know there are lots of bears, but in Purcell this is the fourth incident I have heard of since working there. A Cougar Inlet road crew foreman had a bear chase him up onto the fuel tanks just a couple of weeks ago at the dump, we had a tree planter charged in 1997 and myself and the silviculture contractor had to throw rocks at a bear that was coming just too close about 5 years ago. Also, in CMH days we had a bunch of clothing left by the roadside ripped to shreds, which included my hard hat being bitten through.

The problem is we see bear frequently and get complacent. There was lots of sign around last week and the only way to move through the blocks is on the "bear trails" through the brush. I know I do not carry bear spray all the time, and was lucky it was in my vest that day. My radio and the bear spray is always in my back pouch where it is not easy to get. That is my second incident with silent, creeping bears and the next time the bear will be shot.

File attachments
2007-11-03 Aggressive Black Bear Stalks Crew.pdf
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