SWANNANOA (CITIZEN-TIMES) – State workers have killed a mother bear that attacked and injured a 75-year-old woman as she was walking her dog near her home, the state Wildlife Resources Commission says.
The woman, Toni Rhegness, sustained serious but nonlife-threatening injuries in the Sept. 18 attack. She was treated and released from a local hospital.
The commission says the adult bear and the three cubs were trapped over the weekend. The bear's three cubs were healthy and old enough to be independent. They were relocated to a remote area, the commission says.
The mother bear was euthanized to protect human safety and keep her cubs from one day doing something similar, according to the commission.
The presence of trash in the neighborhood and the dog's hostility toward the bear played a role in leading to the attack, said Colleen Olfenbuttel, black bear and furbearer biologist for the commission. The attack also happened at night when bears are more active and when it was harder for Rhegness to see the mother bear.
There have been a number of interactions between people and bears in the Asheville area this year, but Wildlife Resources Commission biologist Mike Carraway said in May that bear activity and numbers were normal this spring.
Olfenbuttel said in a statement released Sunday that heavy rains earlier in the year resulted in "a substantial lack of natural foods for bears to eat, such as acorns, nuts, berries and other fruits.”
“This lack of food means bears are getting bolder and going into neighborhoods and other places they may normally avoid seeking food. Unsecured trash cans left out overnight are one of the biggest attractants to bears,” she said.
The commission said the attack happened as follows:
Rhegness was in front of her house in northeast Swannanoa at 10:30 p.m. while walking her dog on a leash when she saw three cubs in a neighbor's trash, which had been set out for a scheduled pickup the next morning.
Her dog barked, and Rhegness shouted to scare away the cubs. She then picked up her dog and headed home.
She had not seen the adult bear. It bit and scratched Rhegness repeatedly as she moved away.