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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

DNA tests raise questions about claimed bear attack

2019 incident led to shooting of bear that may well have had no connection to attack on jogger

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 4/14/21

ELY— Back in July of 2019, a 16-year-old girl prompted a Department of Natural Resources advisory here after she reported she had been bitten by a bear while jogging near White Iron Lake. The …

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DNA tests raise questions about claimed bear attack

2019 incident led to shooting of bear that may well have had no connection to attack on jogger

Posted

ELY— Back in July of 2019, a 16-year-old girl prompted a Department of Natural Resources advisory here after she reported she had been bitten by a bear while jogging near White Iron Lake. The reported incident made headlines around the state and prompted a DNR conservation officer to shoot a young male bear in the general vicinity later that evening.
At the time, the DNR reported that the bear had been sighted near a resort dumpster and failed to show adequate fear of the officer, who then shot and killed the animal.
But DNA results obtained by the Timberjay raise doubts about the reported bear attack and raise questions about why the DNR never clarified the story once the agency obtained the results, back in October of 2019.
DNR officials had hoped to use tissue samples taken from the dead bear to link the animal to the attack on the jogger, who was treated and released from the Ely hospital for injuries to her thigh. In addition to the tissue sample from the bear carcass, the DNR sent the ripped pants worn by the jogger to a California laboratory for testing.
The results came back with a surprise.
According to the lab report, issued Oct. 22, 2019, swabs taken from the ripped area on the back left leg of the girl’s jogging suit found no evidence of bear DNA. Instead, the lab reported the swabs found only the DNA of a dog.
While the presence of dog DNA does not definitively link a dog to the attack on the jogger, the results, combined with the lack of any sign of bear DNA, certainly raise the possibility that the jogger was the victim of a far more routine kind of attack. According to the DNR, just eight serious, unprovoked bear attacks have been reported in Minnesota since 1987. By contrast, government sources estimate the number of dog bites in the U.S. at more than 4 million annually, with approximately 800,000 victims requiring medical attention.
The DNR did not issue a press statement on the lab results and when the Timberjay inquired about the test results last year, Dave Olfelt, director of the DNR’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, responded only that the results did not show the presence of bear DNA, which made it impossible to link the dead bear to the jogger attack. His response did not mention that the test had revealed dog DNA. The DNR never revealed the identity of the jogger, so further questioning of the jogger or her family is not possible.
While the lab results were available as public record, the DNR had little incentive to announce them and made no effort to do so. The agency had used the incident as a case-in-point in their ongoing campaign to discourage residents in the Ely area from feeding bears. The agency has long argued that bear feeding habituates bears to humans, creating the potential for negative interactions.
Some in area unhappy with shooting of bear
The DNR’s decision to shoot a bear in response to the claimed attack hasn’t set well with everyone in the area where the incident took place. Carla Arneson, who made a data request for the lab results last month, said she was shocked to see that the jogger attack may not have involved a bear at all. She complains that the DNR has been too quick to shoot bears as the solution to too many bear complaints. “I think they need to have a different attitude when they send somebody out,” she said, adding that it is humans who are creating the attractions that get bears in trouble.
Arneson said she now believes the bear the DNR shot was the same bear that had been seen with a plastic ring around its neck for several weeks earlier in the summer. That bear, dubbed Ringo by many residents around Farm and White Iron lakes, had been a regular visitor to cabins in the area, raiding bird feeders and other food sources. Arneson said Ringo had visited her yard more than once to graze on dandelions and once showed up on her deck, looking for bird seed. She said she had interactions with the bear and never found him to be hostile, although he clearly had little fear of humans. “He was a cool animal. I don’t think he would hurt anyone,” she said.
Arneson said she saw him last on the Friday before the claimed attack on the jogger. Two days later, the DNR conservation officer dispatched a male bear about the same size as Ringo, not far from Arneson’s cabin. “I’m quite sure it was Ringo,” she said.
While the dead bear did not have a ring around its neck, Arneson and others in the area believe the bear had managed to get the ring off sometime in early July, which was the last time anyone reported seeing the bear. By that time, the bear and its plight had attracted national headlines and a substantial following in the community.
It had also attracted an informal Facebook group, led by Karen Pilipuf Matus, who reported the last sighting of Ringo on July 2. She also reported a sighting of a bear that an observer believed to be Ringo, without his ring, on July 5.

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