By Laura Zuckerman
SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - An Idaho man is recovering from cuts to his head from a black bear attack, the third in recent days in the Northern Rockies, where wildlife managers say supplies of berries and other foods favored by the animals have been reduced by drought.
Idaho Fish and Game officials said on Wednesday that the latest attack involved a bighorn sheep hunter who was bitten during a pre-dawn raid on his hunting camp in the mountains of east central Idaho.
Stephen Vouch, 29, of Boise, told the officials he was awakened from sleep early on Friday by something tugging on his hair and yelled when he realized he was being bitten by a bear.
Another member of the hunting party shot the bear at close range with a handgun and subsequently killed the wounded animal after it climbed a tree for safety.
The incident came less than a week after an elderly woman was attacked by a black bear inside her Montana home where she had been feeding the medium-sized omnivores birdseed and millet, state wildlife managers said. The woman, 85-year-old Barbara Paschke, died from her injuries on Thursday.
The Sept. 27 mauling of Paschke came the same day a hunter in Idaho suffered minor injuries from an attack by a black bear in the southeastern part of the state, the first such case in that area in 13 years, state conservation officers said.
As a rule, it is rare for black bears to attack humans, said James Jonkel, bear manager with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The recent cluster may be tied to the bruins’ unsuccessful efforts to gain sufficient fat reserves for winter hibernation, he said.
An early spring followed by an unusually hot and dry summer across parts of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming led to spare supplies of berries, the staple for the thousands of black bears that roam the region, in mountainous terrain, said Jonkel.
The hunt for food has in some instances led them to lower elevations, close to neighborhoods and towns and where water can still be found in some streams, he said.
The challenges faced by bears this fall have been compounded by people leaving out birdseed and other items that attract the animals, said Jonkel.
"Bears are smart. They're just like us – they never forget where they can get a free beer,” he said.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Lisa Lambert)