Which State Has the Most Fatal Bear Attacks?

Written by Lev Baker
Updated: October 5, 2023
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Key Points

  • There are three kinds of bears in the United States: the black bear, the grizzly, and the polar bear.
  • Black bears are the smallest in size, but the most abundant with a population estimated at about 300,000.
  • Alaska has the highest number of bears of any state with 100,000 black bears, 30,000 grizzlies, and between 4,000 – 7,000 polar bears.

For many, bears are a source of wonder and awe. Though they may appear cuddly from afar, it’s important to remember that wild bears are dangerous apex predators. They do not often attack humans, and while fatal bear attacks are rare, they do happen.

Grizzlies, black bears, and even polar bears can attack humans, leading to fatalities. In fact, all bears have the potential to be dangerous when humans get too close or don’t respect their space. There are an average of 11 bear attacks in the United States every year, with around half of those being fatal. As urban areas grow and wild regions shrink, the chances of bear encounters become much more likely.

But which state is home to the most fatal bear attacks? Which state should you be most wary of when exploring bear country? Let’s take a look.

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Types of Bears in the USA

Before we get into which states have the most fatal bear attacks, let’s look at the types of bears found in the USA. The grizzly bear is the most iconic, but other types of bears can be found in different parts of the USA. These include the American black bear and the polar bear.

Although all bears are potentially dangerous, each species has its own unique behavior and characteristics.

Black Bear

American black bears are the most common type of bear in the USA, with an estimated population of 300,000. They are fairly small compared to other species and have a thick black coat. These bears primarily live in forests and are not generally aggressive, as they are not nearly as territorial as other species. They usually run away when encountered by humans. However, mothers with cubs or aggressive males can pose a threat.

American black bear

American black bears are the most common type of bear in the United States.

©DaBler / Creative Commons

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly bears are a large type of brown bear found across North America. The estimated population of grizzly bears in the United States is 55,000. While grizzly bears used to inhabit most of the western part of the US, they are now only found in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Wyoming. Grizzly bears can weigh up to 1,000 pounds and are very territorial, so they attack humans more often than any other type of bear.

Grizzly bear on cliff

Grizzly bears can weigh up to 1,000 pounds and are very territorial and more likely to attack than other types of bears.

©Dennis W Donohue/Shutterstock.com

Polar Bear

Polar bears are the rarest kind of bear in the USA. Polar bears can only be found in the northern regions of Alaska, with only between 4,000 to 7,000 existing in the wild. Polar bears are the largest type of bear in the world and can be very aggressive and dangerous if encountered in the wild. However, polar bears very rarely attack humans, because, well… there are few humans in their habitat in the first place.

Polar bear in Alaska

Polar bears can only be found in the northern regions of Alaska but can be very aggressive.

©Alan D. Wilson, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons – License

States With Prominent Bear Populations

The states with the most prominent bear populations are Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Arizona, and California.

StateBlack BearsGrizzly BearsPolar Bears
North Carolina15,00000
Tennesee6,00000
Colorado17,000-20,00000
Alaska100,00030,0004,000-7,000
Arizona3,00000
California25,000- 35,00000
Idaho20,000-30,00035 – 400
Montana15,0001,800-2,0000
Wyoming5006000

Which State Has the Most Bear Attacks?

But where do most of these fatalities occur? According to the National Park Service, Alaska has had the most fatal bear attacks in the USA since 1900.

According to statistics, about 29.6% of all fatal bear attacks in the USA have occurred in Alaska. This is likely because of the large population of grizzly and black bears found there. Additionally, the remote and rugged nature of much of the state makes it a perfect habitat for these animals, as over 95% of the state is wilderness.

Alaska is home to an estimated 30,000 grizzly bears, 100,000 black bears, and between 4,000 and 7,000 polar bears. Alaska only has a population of approximately 740,000, so this is nearly 1 bear for every 5 people! With such a high density of bears, it’s no wonder the state sees more fatal bear attacks than any other.

In the past 30 years, Alaska has had an average of four fatal bear attacks per year. Most of these occur in remote areas of the state, with hikers, hunters, and fishermen being the most likely victims.

It is also important to note that fatal bear attacks have recently been on the rise in Alaska. This increase can be attributed to the shrinking of their natural habitat, increased human development, global warming, and a general disregard for established safety protocols.

The survival rate is also pretty high for those attacked by bears in Alaska. Let’s look at a couple of survival stories from the state.

Alex Minish, 61, is one of the luckiest people in Alaska. When he was out in the forest doing some surveying work, he was attacked by a large grizzly bear. The bear attacked him, leaving him with severe injuries on his body and face. He managed to survive by playing dead, and the bear eventually left him alone.

Another young man, Nicholas Kuperus, 33, was hunting moose in northern Alaska when he was attacked by a grizzly bear. He managed to survive the attack with deep puncture wounds on his shoulder and arm. Fortunately, he had bear spray that he had brought with him, which allowed him to fight off the bear and make it safely back home.

It’s also interesting to note that bears in Alaska generally don’t become territorial or aggressive unless provoked. But when they do, it can have devastating consequences.

Alaska may be the state with the highest density of bears, but any state with any species of bear leaves you at risk of getting attacked by a bear. But don’t let this discourage you from exploring its vast wilderness — just be sure to take the proper precautions and follow established safety protocols.

Grizzly bear in Alaska

According to statistics, about 29.6% of all fatal bear attacks in the USA have occurred in Alaska.

©Pat de la Harpe/Shutterstock.com

How to Survive A Bear Attack

Of course, the best way to survive a bear attack is to prevent one in the first place. Avoiding them is the key to safety, and there are a few simple steps you can take to decrease your chances of ever having an encounter with an aggressive bear.

Make loud noises as you hike through Bear Country. Attach bells to your backpack or shoes and sing songs as you hike through the woods. Many bear attacks occur when humans accidentally surprise a bear.

Firstly, it’s important to be aware of the warning signs that a bear can give when they are feeling threatened. If a bear stands up on its hind legs, it is most likely attempting to get a better look at you and its surroundings. Growling, teeth-clacking, and bluff charges are also warning signs that you should leave the area immediately. You also want to identify what type of bear you are dealing with because you should react differently depending on the type of bear.

Secondly, it’s essential to know how to react if you do come face-to-face with a bear. Here, you need to know that different species of bear react differently to human encounters.

For example, if you encounter a black bear, the best thing to do is confront it and make loud noises. Make yourself appear as large as possible by raising your arms and slowly backing away. If a bear does attack, you should fight back with anything that can be used as a weapon, such as your hiking pole or your fists.

But if you encounter a grizzly bear, the best thing to do is to play dead by lying flat on your stomach with your arms and legs tucked into your chest. This should make the bear lose interest, and it will then leave the area.

Lastly, it’s important to practice bear safety when you’re outdoors. Keep your food and garbage in sealed containers away from your campsite, and never approach a bear to take its picture. If you do see a bear in the wild, enjoy it from a safe distance and give it plenty of space.

Be prepared with bear spray, a personal protection device designed to repel bears, and make loud noises to scare them away. Bear spray is designed to stop attacks, but they do not harm the bears permanently.  Remember that bear attacks are rare, but being aware of the risks is the best way to stay safe.

By following these simple steps, you can be sure to have an enjoyable outdoor experience free from a bear attack.

Which Bear Has Killed the Most Humans?

A mother brown bear with her three cubs.

According to the National Park Service, the majority of bear attacks are a result of them feeling threatened or protecting their young.

©Lorraine Logan/Shutterstock.com

The majority of human fatalities are incurred by encounters with brown bears, of which grizzlies are a subspecies. Although your odds of being attacked by a bear are very small, there are still a reported 40 bear-related deaths each year. According to the National Park Service, the majority of bear attacks are a result of them feeling threatened or protecting their young.

The number of bear attacks varies by species but the top bear to be wary of is the brown bear. Here are the statistics for the fatalities in North America:

  • Polar Bear – they are responsible for 11 fatal attacks
  • Brown Bear – they are responsible for 90 fatal attacks
  • Black Bear – they are responsible for 82 fatal attacks

There are certain areas that are considered hotspots for bear attacks, some of which are Montana’s Glacier National Park of which there were 10 fatal attacks, and Yellowstone National Park, of which there are eight fatal attacks, all incurred by brown bears.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Scott E Read/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Lev is a writer at AZ Animals who primarily covers topics on animals, geography, and plants. He has been writing for more than 4 years and loves researching topics and learning new things. His three biggest loves in the world are music, travel, and animals. He has his diving license and loves sea creatures. His favorite animal in the world is the manta ray.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
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  2. PetKeen, Available here: https://petkeen.com/bear-attack-statistics/
  3. PetPedia, Available here: https://petpedia.co/bear-attack-statistics
  4. Independent, Available here: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/michigan-grizzly-bear-attack-survives-b2162950.html