ASHEVILLE, NC — A couple was treated for injuries at Mission Hospital after they were attacked by a black bear Sept. 29 on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, forcing closure of trails near the popular spot and the likely euthanization of the bear, said a parkway spokesperson.
The man and woman, who live locally, were having a picnic on a grassy hill when they were alerted by their dog’s barking that a bear was nearby, said Leesa Brandon, parkway spokesperson.
The dog, which was not on a leash, ran toward the bear while barking loudly.
“Likely aggravated by the dog, the bear acted defensively toward the dog and the couple. Over the next several minutes, there were repeated attacks by the bear while the couple retreated with their dog to the safety of their vehicle,” according to a statement by the Park Service.
While the sex of the bear has not yet been determined, Brandon said it was described as young but not a yearling, weighing approximately 200 pounds. There were no associated cubs reported at the time of the incident.
The parkway is a sanctuary for bears, since it provides their natural, forested habitat, and hunting is prohibited. Dogs must be on a 6-foot leash on parkway land. Owners who do not leash their dogs face a possible fine of $50, Brandon said.
“Charges have not been made at this time,” she said.
Brandon said the couple suffered lacerations and scratches in the skirmish with the bear, but the dog was not harmed.
Fall is one of the busiest times on the parkway for humans as millions travel the scenic byway that passes directly through Asheville to view the fall foliage. The parkway is the most visited unit of the National Park Service, with 14.1 million visitors in 2020.
This is also a critical feeding period for bears before they enter winter hibernation. Visitors should be cautious and follow BearWise protocols while in bear country, including properly following food storage regulations, keeping pets leashed and remaining at a safe viewing distance from bears.
If attacked by a black bear, rangers strongly recommend fighting back with any available object and remember that bears may view you and your pets as prey. Though rare, attacks on humans do occur, and can cause injuries or death.
A man found dead in Great Smoky Mountains Park in 2020 was most likely killed by a black bear who was seen scavenging his remains, according to an autopsy report obtained Aug. 18 by the Citizen Times.
Park rangers and wildlife biologists with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission are searching the area in an attempt to capture the bear, Brandon said.
If the bear is captured and positively identified, Brandon said, officials will “humanely euthanize,” the bear as per park and state wildlife commission protocol, a decision that is “never made lightly.”
In response to hundreds of public comments posted on social media questioning why the bear would be killed, the parkway’s public affairs office included the following on Facebook:
“It is not at all uncommon for a bear to bluff charge, pop their jaws, huff, stomp their feet etc. when they encounter a dog, on or off leash. However, this attack was unusual in that the bear was uncharacteristically aggressive and continued to pursue the human subjects involved after the dog was removed and continued to attack the couple’s vehicle after they were all inside of it and the threat (the couple and their dog) was effectively removed. indicates a more predatory response.This presents an intolerable level of risk in a high-use, public area.”
Follow Karen Chavez on Twitter: @KarenChavezACT