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Deadly Black Bear Attack Is California’s First: Sierra County Bear Incident

In November 2023, a Sierra County bear incident turned into the first documented deadly black bear attack on a human in California. The tragic event unfolded in Downieville, leading to heightened concerns about wildlife safety and human interactions with bears.


DOWNIEVILLE, CA (3-minute read) — The first documented deadly black bear attack in California’s history occurred in Sierra County in November 2023, as confirmed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The incident happened in Downieville, a close-knit community where everyone looks out for each other, according to Sierra County Sheriff Mike Fisher.

The case began with what seemed like a routine welfare check call. When deputies arrived at the home of 71-year-old Patrice Miller, they were confronted with a shocking scene. Evidence of a bear intrusion was immediately visible, with a broken door and bear scat on the porch. Inside, they found Miller’s remains, which had been partially consumed by a bear.

Initially, officials speculated that Miller had died of natural causes before the bear’s entry. However, the bear continued returning to the site, prompting repeated calls from worried citizens. This led to the involvement of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, who were initially hesitant to take action without a property owner’s request for a depredation permit. Eventually, the property owner was contacted, and a bear was trapped.

Further complications arose when it was believed the trapped bear, a female, was not the culprit. However, upon closer inspection, it was confirmed to be a male bear, which was subsequently euthanized. Despite these measures, bear activity in the area remained high, leading to additional concerns.

An autopsy later revealed that Miller did not die of natural causes but from a bear attack, making it the first fatal black bear attack in California’s recorded history. This revelation highlighted the increasing frequency of human-bear conflicts, exacerbated by attractants like garbage and pet food around homes.

Are deadly black bear attacks common?

In this Sierra County bear incident, we’re talking about a black bear. Recently, we shared a story of a man (graphic warning) nearly killed by a grizzly bear, attacks by which are much more common.

While deadly black bear attacks are extremely rare, they can and do still occur from time to time, but aren’t close to being considered common.

As bear encounters become more common, officials emphasize the importance of public education on bear safety and prevention measures. Simple steps like securing garbage and avoiding leaving food outside can significantly reduce the risk of attracting bears.

Safety Tip: Always secure trash and remove food attractants from around your home to prevent bear intrusions. Stay informed about local wildlife activity and report any unusual bear behavior to authorities immediately.

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