Bear kills dog in Shenandoah National Park

Trail closures instituted for second time this year

A hiker’s dog was killed by a bear Wednesday near the Dickey Ridge Loop Trail on the northern end of Shenandoah National Park near Front Royal.

The hiker was walking with two dogs on retractable leashes near the Snead Farm Loop Trail and Snead Farm fire road when the group encountered a sow (mother bear) with cubs, said Park Biologist Rolf Gubler.

“The female bear acted in a defensive manner because she had cubs and it sounds like she was bluff charging the woman with the two dogs,” Gubler said. “Once the woman started to flee, it perhaps triggered a more aggressive response by the bear in taking that trailing dog.”

Gubler said the hiker didn’t necessarily act in the manner recommended by the park, and that her fleeing may have incited the attack from the mother.

“If a black bear bluff charges you, you’re supposed to stand your ground, make noise, throw rocks or sticks if possible,” Gubler said. “That’s what we tell our visitors.”

He also recommended that park goers carry either bear pepper spray or an air horn on their person, should they encounter a bear.

The Snead Farm Trail has been closed following the incident, marking the second time this year the park has closed trails for bear activity.

“We feel like because of the defensive nature of this incident and the flight response probably triggered the response,” Gubler said. “We’re just closing the Snead Farm Trail. We’re going to post advisories around the Dickey Ridge Picnic Grounds and the Visitors Center… This year is a little unusual in terms of food conditions and black bear behavior,” Gubler said. “We did have one closure last year. This is our second closure this year. It is a bit unusual.”

Gubler said that the park’s bear population, estimated at between 300 and 600, can fluctuate based on the time of year as well as from year to year.

This year has seen numbers closer to the higher end of that estimate, possibly the result of high numbers of acorns and hickory nuts available during last year’s late summer and early fall months, Gubler said.

Gubler also seemed to think that the more than 10,000-acre fire that burned toward the south end of the park earlier this year may be playing a role in the increased number of bear sightings due to some bears not finding food where they normally would.

“I do think that we still have a higher density of bears as a result of that spring burn but that will correct itself next year,” Gubler said.

Park officials are discouraging hikers from using trails in the Dickey Ridge area of the park’s north end as a precaution.

Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or nbudryk@nvdaily.com

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