The same sow who attacked the visiting jogger on Mosquito Cove, had earlier bluff-charged the occupants of the recreational cabin. (USFS file photo)

An 18-year-old Vancouver, BC, resident suffered minor injuries after being attacked by a brown bear sow on a popular trail near Sitka.

The young woman was traveling on the state ferry with her family. The attack occurred on the Mosquito Cove Trail on Tuesday (9-4-12), about a mile from the Sitka ferry terminal.
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Mosquito Cove is a mile-and-a-quarter loop that begins and ends in the Forest Service campground in the Starrigavan Valley. The woman, Nicola Rammell, was out in front of the rest of her family, jogging during a ferry layover.

The area of trail where she met the sow runs along the ocean, in the thick forest fringe at the base of a cliff.

ADF&G biologist Phil Mooney says the bear and cub were traveling in the same direction as Rammell, who had almost no time to react.

“When she stepped up on the knob, essentially she was looking right at the bear’s butt. She yelled, and turned around to flee, and fell off the corner of the trail there, down the hill. The bear pounced on her and bit her on the buttocks.”

This bite is the only injury Rammell suffered. Unlike Sitka’s last harmful bear encounter – between a mountain-biker and another sow at Heart Lake in 2009 – the bear did not swipe Rammell with her claws.

But the episode was not quite over.

“She screamed again and the bear let her go and rejoined its cub. She then stood up and waved at the bear, and the bear charged her again – a bluff charge – and didn’t make any physical contact that time. Then, it turned around and picked up the cub and left the scene.”

All of this happened so quickly that the young woman’s family never knew she was in distress.

Mooney says the sow is probably a new mother, around seven years old. Her cub was born this year, and appears a little scrawny for this late in the summer. The sow has had two other notable encounters with people: A few weeks ago, she bluff-charged the occupants of the Starrigavan recreation cabin, and just the day before this incident, she climbed up on the boardwalk and bluff-charged a local resident who had gotten between the sow and her cub.

The Forest Service has now closed all trails and the campground in the Starrigavan Valley. Mooney, however, says trail users elsewhere in Sitka should be aware that this kind of encounter is not unique to Starrigavan.

“There’s a perceived notion of safety whether you’re in the campground or on the trails, and you should discard that perceived notion and expect to run into a bear – and be prepared to run into a bear. And think about that: whether you should be listening on your headphones while you’re jogging down a trail like Mosquito Cove, that’s fairly narrow and has limited sight distance. And there is the opportunity to close in on a bear before you have a chance to react.”

Mooney believes the sow’s reaction to the young woman on the Mosquito Cove Trail was normal behavior — for a brown bear with a cub. Although all’s well that ends well in this story, Mooney thinks this young visitor from Canada – through no fault of her own – may have antagonized the sow more than necessary. He wants all of us who live in brown bear country to have a better game plan if – and when – our turn comes.

“You don’t want to run. And if she comes at you, you probably want to drop immediately to the ground and cover up – that’s the advice I would give people. You should also be mentally prepared, and kind of surprised that you don’t run into a bear. It’s been a pretty easy season so far, but that doesn’t make up for that single encounter that you may have that you’re the one who’s laying face down on the ground.”

Alaska State Troopers describe Rammell’s injuries in the attack as “minor.” She was treated and released, and allowed to continue on her trip with her family.