First Fatal Black Bear Attack on a Human Reported in California

By: Stephanie Bontorin | Published: Jun 07, 2024

The Sierra County Sheriff’s office has confirmed that a black bear attacked and killed a 71-year-old woman in her home. The killing marks the first-ever recorded fatal attack of a black bear in the state of California.

Now, officials are concerned that shrinking natural habitats and a reliance on humans for food is causing bears to get too close to humans.

The Sheriffs Office Initially Responded to a Welfare Check

The incident happened on November 8th, 2023. County sheriffs initially responded to a welfare check of a woman in Downieville, a small community just outside Lake Tahoe.

A view of a large lake surrounded by tall evergreen trees with mountains in the background

Source: Samantha Sheppard/Unsplash

Patrice Miller was found dead in her home and a full investigation was conducted of the cause of death.

First Investigation Ruled Out a Bear Attack

The initial investigation pointed to signs of a bear inside the home with Miller.

A police siren lit up at night.

Source: Scott Rodgerson/Unsplash

However, the sheriff’s department quickly decided that a bear attack was not the cause f death¬† and determined a bear may have entered her home after the time of death.

Further Investigation Found More Evidence

On Thursday of this week, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) revealed that an autopsy on Miller concluded that she, in fact, died from a bear attack.

Four police cars in a row with their lights on

Source: Photospirit/Canva

The autopsy report is now evidence of the first ever fatal black bear attack in California history.

The Bear Was Trapped Quickly After the Attack

Wildlife officials tracked down the bear and trapped it after the incident. DNA analysis confirmed the exact bear so it could be humanely euthanized.

A large black bear standing in tall grass with a large mountain behind it

Source: Danika Perkinson/Unsplash

Although the CDFW does it’s best to protect wildlife in the area, a bear that poses an immediate threat to human life has to be destroyed.

History of Bear Attacks in California

Reports of humans being injured by black bears are increasingly rare in the state. However, encounters are becoming more common as natural habitats shrink each year due to the expansion of neighborhoods into the woods and new infrastructure decimating woodlands.

A small black bear cub sitting on the side of a mountain in the snow

Source: Chris Geirman/Unsplash

However, some recent incidents between humans and bears have led to serious injuries. In 2022, a North Lake Tahoe woman was attacked when a bear entered her home in search of food.


Officials Recommend Taking Precautions in the Wilderness

One of the easiest ways to avoid a bear encounter when hiking or camping in a National Park is to properly dispose of garbage and keep food tied up.

A view of a large lake surrounded by evergreen trees at sunset

Source: Mick Haupt/Unsplash

Experts say that bears are only attracted to the smell of food and will generally leave humans alone otherwise.


Experts Blame Careless Visitors for Spike in Bear Attacks

The increasing number of visitors to California’s parks and forests each year shows a direct spike in bear encounters and attacks. Experts blame the carelessness of visitors leaving out food and garbage that attacks wild animals looking for an easy meal.

A large bear walking along the edge of a lake

Source: NOAA/Unsplash

Over Memorial Day weekend, a large group of college students left a small island on Lake Tahoe covered in litter and garbage. The trash immediately attracted wildlife to the area and made clean-up difficult for park employees.


Black Bears Are More Non-Confrontational Than Other Species

The CDFW wanted to remind the public that black bear attacks are extremely uncommon. The bear that attacked the woman could have been frightened or felt backed into a corner when trapped inside the home.

A mother bear walks with two cups next to lake surrounded by green grass and tall trees

Source: Delaney Van/Unsplash

Compared to other species’ of bears, the black bear is the most non-confrontational and will likely walk away when encountered in the wild.


Location of the Attack Was Remote

Downieville is a small community in the Sierra Nevada with less than 300 residents. It sits around 60 miles northwest of Truckee on the outskirts of Lake Tahoe.

A section of dense woods

Source: Spencer Demera/Unsplash

Bear encounters are mostly unheard of closer to Lake Tahoe, but in the backcountry, bears can feel more at home and confident when hunting.


Animal Attacks on Humans Becoming Increasingly Common

The bear attack mirrors the trend of dangerous encounters with wild animals. Officials have had difficulties stopping deadly orca attacks on boats in recent months.

An orca jumping out of blue ocean waters.

Source: Thomas Lipke/Unsplash

Across the coast of Spain and Portugal, killer whales have been targeting and sinking yachts and fishing boats that encroach on their territory.


California Residents Encouraged To Stay Bear Aware

The increased incidents of bear encounters in California have caused officials to warn residents to stay vigilant.

Bear family heads for the pool in the backyard of a Los Angeles family home

Source: Reddit

Trash bins are recommended to be kept inside. As well, if you wind up running into a bear, stay far away and let it move freely.