E. Idaho elk hunter hospitalized after bear attack

AP News
Posted: Sep 24, 2011 7:59 PM
E. Idaho elk hunter hospitalized after bear attack

An Idaho elk hunter who apparently stumbled across a bear's resting spot Saturday was hospitalized after the animal bit him and broke his right arm, officials said.

Richard Paini, 40, suffered puncture wounds and an injured left hand along with the broken forearm in the attack at about 9 a.m. He was taken to the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls.

A hospital spokesman said Paini, of Island Park, was listed in serious condition Saturday afternoon. She declined to release details about the extent of his injuries.

The bear involved in the attack fled after Paini's archery hunting partner, John Stiehl of Island Park, used bear spray to scare off the bear. Stiehl told authorities he believed it was a grizzly bear.

The Wildlife Human Attack Response Team was activated to investigate the attack, said Gregg Losinski, a spokesman for Idaho Fish and Game and a member of the team.

"It was described to be a large bear," Losinski said.

He said the attack, first reported by KIFI-TV in Idaho Falls, occurred about a half mile east of Last Chance in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. He said hair samples collected at the site have been sent to a lab that will identify whether it was a black bear or grizzly bear.

The bear's reaction, Losinski said, was typical of grizzly bears, which tend to be more aggressive than black bears, though a surprised black bear could also be dangerous.

"It does appear that it was a surprise encounter," Losinski said. "The elk hunters were out there and came within 80 feet of the day bed of the bear. The bear reacted by charging and biting one hunter on the arm and hand, and then ran away. The actions of the bear were typical actions of a bear that was startled or surprised. It didn't attempt to pursue them. It just ran away."

Losinski said the hunters did nothing wrong.

"The problem is when you're hunting, you do a lot of things that don't prevent problems with bears," he said. "All the things that could alert a bear to your presence you purposely don't do when hunting."

He said the bear was likely in the area feeding on a dead domestic cow. It's unclear how the cow died, he said.

He said officials haven't decided whether to try to capture the bear, and doing so could be difficult considering the number of black bears and grizzlies in the area.

Meanwhile, wildlife officials were trying to capture a different grizzly bear some distance from where the attack occurred. Losinski said that bear has become habituated to food left out by humans, sometimes unintentionally and sometimes on purpose to attract bears for viewing.

The bear officials hope to trap has so far avoided capture for more than a week, staying clear of culvert traps and even snares, Losinski said.

"The bear is very wary of human things that are not food," he said. "We know his general location, his general habits, but he's very wary of everything we've done. That bear has not posed a threat, but anytime you have a bear that becomes habituated you can have a problem."

Officials plan to kill the bear if it's captured, Losinski said.

Saturday's attack follows a string of deadly encounters with grizzlies this summer.

In late August, a grizzly in Yellowstone National Park mauled a Michigan hiker to death. In July, a female bear with cubs in Yellowstone attacked a couple from California, killing the man before fleeing.

On Sept. 16, a black bear hunter mistakenly shot a 400-pound grizzly bear in northwestern Montana. When he and his partner tracked it, the grizzly attacked one of the hunters. The other hunter kept firing, and authorities Friday said one of the bullets killed the hunter who was being attacked by the wounded grizzly.