A 60-year-old woman hiking with her dogs was seriously injured in a bear attack near the Priest Lake visitor center on Tuesday morning.
The woman was hiking just after 9 a.m. on the Chipmunk Rapids trail when she saw a black bear, Idaho Department of Fish and Game spokesman Phil Cooper said.
The bear first attacked her dogs, then knocked her down, biting and scratching her several times.
The woman was able to get her phone out and call family in the area. Her brother and niece came to help, Cooper said.
“By the time they got there the bear was still there,” he said. The relatives were able to scare the bear away and take the woman to the trailhead near the U.S. Forest Service Visitor’s Center on the southwest side of the lake.
Idaho Fish and Game is not releasing her name, Cooper said.
The woman was airlifted to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane by Life Flight with non-life-threatening injuries.
“They were worried about blood loss,” said Chief Peggy Smith of the Coolin Cavanaugh Bay Fire Protection District, whose firefighters helped clear a path for the helicopter.
The woman’s dogs also were injured, Cooper said. They were taken to a vet and are expected to recover fully.
Authorities in Priest Lake ordered the closure of the hiking trails in the vicinity of the visitor center. Bonner County Emergency Management reported over Twitter Tuesday morning the trails were closed until further notice.
Cooper said Fish and Game tried to track the bear with dogs, but were unable to follow after the bear crossed the Priest River. Trackers saw two sets of bear prints on the other side of the river and believe the bear may have been a mother who had a cub with her, Cooper said.
Bear attacks are not common, and bears typically knock someone down and then leave, Cooper said.
“The really alarming thing for us is the fact that it stayed with her for 30 minutes,” he said.
Rich Lindsay, a fishing guide who operates in the Priest Lake area, said he was dropping off some brochures at the visitor center around 9:30 a.m. when he saw an ambulance entering the parking lot to treat the victim.
Lindsay said he picked huckleberries in the area on Monday and didn’t see any bears or bear sign.
“I’ve been here most of my life and I’ve never heard of a bear attack before,” he said.
Cooper said he wasn’t sure if the woman’s dogs were on leash when she was attacked, but he wanted to remind people to keep dogs on leashes in bear country. If dogs run ahead of their owners and encounter a bear, they’re likely to get scared and run back, luring the bear toward people.
Though the woman may not have had time to use bear spray, Cooper said carrying spray while in bear country is always a good idea. Bear spray should be easily accessible, held in hand or on a belt.
“It doesn’t do you any good if it’s in a backpack,” he said.
The woman was near a patch of ripe huckleberries when she was attacked. Cooper said it’s important to remember bears like to gather near berries and to be cautious.
“If people are going to be picking huckleberries, they need to be on the lookout for bears,” Cooper said.