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California confirms first fatal black bear attack on human

CBS News Live
CBS News Sacramento Live

DOWNIEVILLE – An autopsy has found that a California woman who was found dead in her Sierra County home back in 2023 was killed by a black bear -- the first-ever recorded case of such a deadly attack. 

Initially, deputies with the Sierra County Sheriff's Office responded to 71-year-old Downieville resident Patrice Miller's home on Nov. 8, 2023 to do a welfare check. Miller was found dead – and the sheriff's office said evidence pointed to a suspected bear encounter.

At the time, the sheriff's office said the initial investigation determined that Miller had died before the bear got in.

However, on Thursday, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife revealed that the autopsy report they recently received confirmed that the bear attack killed the woman.

The Downieville incident is now the first documented fatal attack by a black bear in California history, CDFW officials said.

Wildlife officials also revealed that the bear involved in the incident had been trapped and euthanized. DNA analysis was used to confirm that it was indeed the same bear, CDFW said.

Bear attacks in California

While human encounters with black bears are growing increasingly common in the California high country, reports of people being injured by the animals are extremely rare.

Still, some incidents between bears and humans have led to serious injuries – like in 2022, when a North Lake Tahoe woman came face to face with a bear in her home

The increasing number of visitors to California's bear country, like the Lake Tahoe region, coupled with carelessness in securing food and garbage are what wildlife experts are blaming for the spike in bear encounters. Earlier in 2024, also noted that a record number of bears had already been evicted from Tahoe buildings

Downieville is a Sierra Nevada community of less than 300 people, about 60 miles northwest of Truckee. 

California is home only to one species of bear, the black bear. Unlike their grizzly bear cousins, the black bear has a more non-confrontational reputation when it comes to human encounters. 

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