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Grizzly attack on forest worker baffles experts

Bear was not deterred by helicopter at logging camp; victim is in hospital

A 57-year-old man is in stable condition in Royal Jubilee Hospital after he was attacked yesterday morning by a grizzly bear at a remote logging operation on the Central Coast, said Port Hardy RCMP.

The 11:30 a.m. mauling occurred at a shake-and-shingle mill at Wyclese Lagoon near Smith Inlet on the mainland north of Port Hardy. The victim was flown in a logging company helicopter to Port Hardy and then transferred to Royal Jubilee Hospital by air ambulance, arriving about 1:30 p.m.

"He indicated it was a surprise attack -- it happened fast," said Rod Olsen, operations manager for the Thompson-Cariboo conservation service.

The man was on the ground, assisting a helicopter removing shakes from a forest. "It was over within a minute and a half, if not less," Olsen said of the attack.

The victim called on his radio for help and walked out to meet the helicopter. He was in surgery yesterday afternoon to repair serious injuries to an arm.

Wildlife experts are baffled by the attack because it happened so close to the disturbance of a helicopter at work: "Bears are usually avoiding that," Olsen said.

A team of conservation officers will be on site today to piece together what happened and try to find the bear.

There's no camp in the area and nothing to attract the bear, although the man might have packed food with him, Olsen said.

It's possible the bear was trying to protect a kill or it had a den nearby.

The Central Coast is home to many grizzly bears, said David Connor, who runs seasonal bear-watching excursions out of Port Hardy.

"People who work in the wilderness on a regular basis carry a shotgun and can of bear spray, or they have somebody on standby while they do their work," Connor said.

"Once bears become habituated with the presence of humans, it's only a matter of time before one of them becomes brazen and thinks, 'I wonder if they're good to

eat.' "

This fall has seen low returns of salmon to rivers, he said, and the lack of the bears' regular food may make them a greater risk for attacking humans.

Bear attacks on forestry workers are rare. WorkSafe B.C. reports only one compensation claim of this nature in the last five years, a bear attack that occurred in 2006.

A Saltspring Island fisherman was mauled by a black bear in Port Renfrew on Sept. 9. That was the first recorded attack by a bear on a human on Vancouver Island. On Aug. 6, a Coquitlam woman was nearly killed by a black bear as she worked in her garden.

Why attacks occur is difficult to pin down, said Mike Badry, the wildlife/human conflict prevention co-ordinator with the Ministry of Environment.

One of the best ways to ward off a bear attack is by working with a group of people and not alone, Badry said.

Bears are either defensive or predatory in their attacks, Badry said. In general, grizzly bear attacks are more defensive, protecting food sources or cubs. Black bears tend to attack for food.

The best way to ward off a defensive attack is to play dead, he said. "You become a non-threat."

Playing dead is the wrong thing to do if a bear is looking for food, "because they just start to eat you," Badry said, "and that's when you fight back like mad."

Turning and running from a bear "is the absolutely worst thing you can do," Badry said. "Even if it wasn't a predatory encounter to begin with, running away can trigger a reaction in a predator to think you might be prey."

The best advice Badry has for anyone venturing into bear country is to carry bear spray: "By all accounts, bear spray is very effective."

Bear spray likely wouldn't have helped yesterday's victim, Olsen said: "I don't think he would have had a chance to deploy it."