First Black Bear Killing of Human Confirmed in California

California’s first ever documented deadly attack by a black bear on a human has been confirmed, following an autopsy of the woman killed in her home.

Patrice Miller, aged 71, was initially believed to have died of natural causes in November 2023, with the bear posthumously feeding on her remains; however, an investigation by the Sierra County Sheriff’s Office and a subsequent autopsy revealed a different story.

“Patrice had passed away due to a bear mauling or a swipe in a bite to the neck area,” Sheriff Mike Fisher told KCRA in a report this Wednesday (June 5).

It is the first deadly black bear attack in the state, California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed to the news station. Newsweek has contacted CDFW outside normal working hours.

“It’s a big deal,” said the department’s Steve Gonzalez. “That doesn’t happen in California. Normally a bear is going to stay away from you, a bear that hasn’t been normalized to human behavior.”

The bear, a male, was caught and euthanized shortly after Miller’s death.

The incident has prompted local officials and wildlife experts to reconsider their approach to managing bear populations in the state, and highlighted issues in bear-human encounters and the bureaucratic hurdles faced by local authorities.

Sheriff Fisher told KCRA that there are difficulties in obtaining a depredation permit to euthanize the bear responsible for the attack. Initially, the CDFW officials denied the request, stating the permit had to come from the property owner, even though Miller was deceased.

After the permit was obtained and the bear trapped, initially officials reportedly misidentified it as female and wanted to release it.

“Ultimately, the biologist got here and tranquilized the bear. Once the bear was asleep, we opened up the cage, and it was a male bear,” Fisher said.

DNA results later verified that the bear was involved in Miller’s death.

“This particular house had a lot of bear attractants,” Fisher told KCRA. “It had a lot of garbage. Patrice had cats and would feed them on the front porch of the house with cat food.”

Miller’s daughter reported that bears had frequently tried to break into the house.

California is home to an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 black bears, predominantly inhabiting forested and mountainous regions across the state. While these bears typically avoid human interaction, they can become a danger if they lose their natural fear of humans, often due to access to human food sources.

Incidents of bears breaking into homes and cars in search of food have increased, particularly in areas like Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada. Despite the rising encounters, fatal attacks on humans are extremely rare, with this November 2023 attack being the first documented case in the state’s history.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife emphasizes that educating the public on proper food storage and bear deterrents is crucial to minimizing these interactions and ensuring the safety of both humans and bears.

This article by Robyn White was frst published by Newsweek on 6 June 2024. Lead Image: A stock photo shows a close up of a black bear. The first ever fatal attack on a human has occurred in California. SILFOX/GETTY.

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