Craig Lankford shot a local black bear after it began harassing his chickens on two separate occasions. The bear fought back.
Lankford of La Grande tells the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) that he first shot the bear on the evening of May 23 to protect his poultry. Failing to fatally wound the bruin, Lankford set out the following morning to pursue it further.
The search didn’t take long. Locating the bear near his property, he shot it again. But this time, the black bear would retaliate, mauling Lankford.
All bear species are extremely dangerous when injured. A typical black bear will avoid conflict beforehand, but wounds can send the predators into an extreme defensive mode (as is natural). Wounding and pursuing a bear is, in short, a recipe for retaliation.
Around 7:37 AM on May 24, 911 dispatch received a call of a bear attack on a person at Owsley Canyon Road, ODFW notes in their media release. Sheriff Deputies and medical services arrived simultaneously, closing all nearby roads and the adjoining Mount Emily Recreation Area due to the danger injured bears present. Then, the search for the bear began in tandem with ODFW officials.
With assistance from USDA Wildlife Services, a black bear consistent with the victim’s description and near the site of the attack was located at about 10:44 AM. The bear was shot and killed at the scene.
A necropsy followed to confirm the bear as the one Lankford shot twice and was then attacked by. “Bullet fragments consistent with the victim’s report confirmed that the bear taken was the one involved in the attack,” ODFW notes.
Black bear retaliation leaves Oregon man with injuries to arms and head
Lankford would sustain injuries to his head and arms. He is, however, expected to make a full recovery amid treatment in La Grande.
“We are grateful Mr. Lankford survived this encounter and wish him a smooth and speedy recovery,” ODFW’s Watershed Manager Jeff Yanke offers.
As the dept. emphasizes, wounded bears are dangerous. ODFW is aware of at least three incidents when wounded bears attacked hunters. Each hunter had shot but not killed the bears. None of these instances were fatal for the hunters.
Bears that are provoked and then retaliate on humans are often euthanized, however.
Bear attacks are rare but tend to occur when:
- Bears are wounded
- when they are being fed by people and lose their natural wariness
- or when they are surprised by people or their dogs
Oregon has not documented any fatal bear attacks, yet is home to a bustling black bear population. Estimates place somewhere between 25,000-30,000 bears in the state. Those living in bear country should take simple steps to reduce the risk of bear encounters and conflict.
“The Union County Sheriff’s Office would like to thank the Oregon State Police and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for their quick response and partnership in this situation,” ODFW concludes.
For best practices in bear country, see our How to Be BearWise with Great Smoky Mountains’ Lead Wildlife Biologist next.
For survival tips with the species, see our Surviving a Black Bear: How to Prevent Encounters and Deter an Attack.