November 01, 2007
By SCOTT McMILLION, Chronicle Staff Writer
The man severely mauled in a bear attack near Corwin Springs was
identified Wednesday as Virgil Massey, 52, of Barstow, Calif.
Massey, who told guides his extensive facial injuries came in one
swipe of the bear's paw, was hunting in the timber above the
Yellowstone River when he was attacked at about 9 a.m. Tuesday,
likely after surprising the bruin.
He has been transported to a hospital in Salt Lake City,
according to his outfitter, Edwin Johnson.
Massey is the fifth hunter attacked in southern Park County since
September, though one attack resulted in no human injuries. The
other attacking bears were all identified as grizzlies, although it
isn't clear at this point what species of bear attacked Massey.
While five attacks and four injuries seem like a lot in two
months, those figures are actually within the yearly average for the
Greater Yellowstone area, according to Chuck Schwartz, head of the
Bozeman-based Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.
"If you go back and look at the statistics, we have an average of
about four" injurious encounters annually in recent years, he said.
"We're on the high end, but we're not outside the variations.
"I think the only thing that is unusual is that they've all
occurred in that one area."
So far this year, six people have been injured by bear attacks in
region: the four in Park County; one involving Bozeman photographer
Jim Cole inside Yellowstone National Park in May; and one in Idaho
when a man surprised a grizzly bear feeding on a moose carcass near
the man's home last spring.
Of those six injured, four were hunters. Schwartz said studies of
radio-collared grizzlies have shown they are attracted to hunting
areas in the fall, not because they're looking for people, but
because they're looking for gut piles and wounded prey.
"They're moving to a good food source," he said. "Over the years,
they have learned where these hunting areas are and they go there."
Plus, grizzly bear populations have grown.
When grizzlies were first listed under the Endangered Species Act
in 1975, officials estimated the Yellowstone-area population at
about 200, Schwartz said.
The population is now estimated at a minimum of 600.
"There are three times as many bears so there is three times the
chance you're going to encounter one," he said.
Also, of the six injurious attacks this year, four came from
females with cubs and one came from a male bear protecting a food
source, a moose that had died near a rural home.
"Those are the two situations when we tell people to be careful"
Schwarz said. "They're protective of their offspring and they're
protective of their food."
The recent rash of attacks in Park County could be related to the
bumper crop of apples along the Yellowstone River, Kevin Frey, bear
management specialist for FWP, said. Bears have been wandering there
at night to eat apples, then moving into the forested hills during
the daytime, where they've been running into hunters.
The whitebark pine nut crop, which often keeps bears in the high
country when it is bounteous, is just average this year.
Massey, was about two miles from the river when he was attacked.
Johnson said he has seen bear scat in the area with lots of
apples, and two miles is not far for a grizzly bear.
Grizzlies lost their federal protections earlier this year, and
if that decision withstands a court fight, Montana officials say
they want to have a limited hunting season on them.
Johnson said he likes that idea.
"There's just an awful lot of bears," he said. "We're going to
have to start hunting them sometime, so they can educate these bears
that the human scent is something they should be afraid of."
Schwartz said that kind of lesson might not spread far.
"The ones that are targets end up dead," he said. "There's no
learning curve there."
He said a better option is for humans to be wary in bear country
and carry bear spray.
Scott McMillion is at