Boy Scout attacked by bear while camping at Harriman shows need to keep safety in mind

·4 min read

With the weather finally turning warmer, if you're making plans to spend some time camping in the woods under the stars, just remember to keep safety from bears in mind.

Bear attacks don't happen often, but they do happen.

One night in late April, Henry Ayers, a 12-year-old Boy Scout from Cooperstown, was camping with his troop in Harriman State Park when a bear wandered into camp.

That was about 1:20 a.m., according to Scoutmaster Diana Nicols. All their food, garbage and cooking gear was properly stored in bear bags hung off the ground, but that wasn't going to stop the bear from looking.

A black bear snuck up on Boy Scouts camping at Harriman State Park on May 1, 2022.
A black bear snuck up on Boy Scouts camping at Harriman State Park on May 1, 2022.

The bear grabbed one sleeping bag and pulled on it. Then it grabbed another one, where Henry was sleeping, and also grabbed his lower leg. He screamed and kicked the bear and it ran away.

"He had some scrapes and bruises, but other than that he was fine," said his mother, Sally Sharkey. "He did have to have rabies shots — nine shots over four days."

Nicols said the bear did not go far. In fact it returned around 3:30 or 4 a.m. and was poking around in an adjacent camper's site. The adults in the Boy Scout camp made noise and chased the bear away. It was not seen again that night.

The Scouts themselves were all asleep by then.

"I think they realized the bear was looking for people's food, not people," Nicols said.

Sharkey said Henry has not been discouraged from camping in the future.

"He's going on a one-week camping trip this summer," she said. "But this time he's requesting to bring bear spray."

They reported the encounter to the state Parks Department and the Department of Environmental Conservation, as well as the folks at nearby Bear Mountain Park.

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In a joint statement, the DEC and State Parks Department confirmed the attack happened, then continued:

"The bear's dangerous behavior demonstrated habituation to human presence, persistence seeking food near humans, and a clear threat to human safety."

The statement said that according to the DEC's Black Bear Response Manual, the policy in such cases is to "immediately euthanize the bear."

The statement concluded that on May 5, U.S. Department of Agriculture staff, working with state Parks and the DEC, "captured and humanely euthanized the bear following appropriate protocols."

Harriman State Park
Harriman State Park

But the DEC offers those who go camping and hiking through the state's parks some tips for ways to minimize or avoid encounters with any bears during their visits.

A major one is: Do not feed the bears.

Deliberate, intentional feeding of bears is against the law in New York state. Feeding bears can create human/bear conflicts by making the bears become bold and aggressive.

And if bears feed on garbage or campers' supplies, they could also eat items that are unhealthy for them, such as soap, shaving cream, insect repellant or even food packaging.

As the DEC says: If an encounter with a human doesn't result in a reward, such as food, the bear will not have a reason to have further contact with humans.

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Other tips:

  • Keep your campsite as clean as possible. Clean up immediately after all meals.

  • Keep grills, pots, pans, cooking utensils and wash basins clean when not in use.

  • Do not leave food or coolers out at any time. Store them in the trunk of your car or the cab of your truck, and keep the windows shut and the coolers out of sight.

  • Never keep food, coolers or scented items in your tent, and do not wear clothing that was worn while preparing or eating meals to bed.

  • Treat all toiletries as food items. Toiletry products are heavily-scented and are as attractive to bears as actual food.

  • Do not put grease, garbage, plastic diapers, cans, bottles or other refuse into the fireplace. These items do not properly burn and will attract bears with their odors.

They also offer tips for cases when a bear approaches you:

  • If you encounter a bear at your campsite, you should use noise — yell, clap or bang pots — as the campers from Cooperstown did, to scare the bear away. Stay calm, walk slowly and speak in a loud, calm voice. Or you can leave slowly by cautiously backing away from the bear.

  • Do not approach, surround or corner a bear, run from a bear, or throw your backpack or food bag at an approaching bear.

  • If a bear charges you, stand your ground, and if you have packed bear spray, dispense it directly at the bear. You should make sure you know how to do that properly before leaving on your trip.

  • Use the buddy system. Multiple people together appear to be a greater threat to a bear, so do not separate.

  • And finally, the DEC says a bear standing on its hind legs is not a prelude to an attack. Bears do that to get a better view and smell of their surroundings.

To report a bear attack, call the nearest regional DEC wildlife office. Numbers, and more information, can be found at their website, dec.ny.gov.

Mike Randall covers breaking news for the Times Herald-Record, the Poughkeepsie Journal and the Journal News/lohud. Reach him at mrandall@th-record.com or on Twitter @MikeRandall845

This article originally appeared on Times Herald-Record: Black bear attacks Boy Scout camping at Harriman State Park