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#281139 - 06/17/16 06:05 PM What will kill you in a National Park
AKSAR Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 08/31/11
Posts: 1120
Loc: Alaska
What’s Really Going to Kill You Outdoors, And How to Live Through It
Quote:
Scared of what might happen on your next camping trip? You shouldn’t be. Of the 280 million or so people who visit National Parks each year, only 120 to 140 succumb to fatal accidents. According to The Washington Post, that puts your odds of being killed in a Park at roughly the same that you’ll die from Ebola. Still worried? Let’s look at what the actual causes of death outdoors are, and give you effective advice for avoiding them.

Why National Parks? They report good data on the hundreds of millions of people who visit to participate in a wide variety of outdoor recreation activities. They’re visited by all walks of life, from all over the world, and those visitors are monitored, policed, and rescued by a single federal agency that keeps records. And this is a data set that excludes what people do on their own property (where accidents are most likely to occur, in general), effectively controlling for people recreating outdoors.


Data from 2007-2013 (attached chart) shows that by far the most fatalities in parks were from drowning (365 deaths), followed by motor vehicle accidents (210). At the bottom of the list are firearm accidents (5), bears (4), and other wildlife (2).

See also the WaPo article Forget bears: Here’s what really kills people at national parks
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#281140 - 06/17/16 06:17 PM Re: What will kill you in a National Park [Re: AKSAR]
clearwater Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 03/19/05
Posts: 1066
Loc: Channeled Scablands
Five Alligator fatalities in the US in the last year.

17 bear fatalities since 2007 in north american.



Edited by clearwater (06/17/16 06:28 PM)

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#281142 - 06/17/16 06:48 PM Re: What will kill you in a National Park [Re: clearwater]
AKSAR Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 08/31/11
Posts: 1120
Loc: Alaska
Originally Posted By: clearwater
Five Alligator fatalities in the US in the last year.

17 bear fatalities since 2007 in north american.

The fatalities in the article I linked were from US National Parks, and the odds of death were calculated using those National Park fatality numbers against National Park visitor numbers.

To calculate odds of death using your 5 alligator fatalities in the US you would need to calculate those 5 deaths against the entire population of the US, which is a great deal larger than the number of National Park visitors.

Likewise for the 17 bear fatalities in "north American", to calculate odds of death you would need to calculate those 17 against the entire population of North America, including Canada and Mexico.

Bottom line is that a basic statistical calculation using your numbers will very likely show an even lower chance of death from bears or alligators than do the National Park statistics.


Edited by AKSAR (06/17/16 06:53 PM)
Edit Reason: clarity
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"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more."
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#281150 - 06/18/16 03:26 AM Re: What will kill you in a National Park [Re: AKSAR]
hikermor Offline
Geezer in Chief
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Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 6648
Loc: southern Cal
Interesting and worthwhile stuff. I would be interested in comparable statistics from designated wilderness areas, either those administered by the NPS, BLM, or the Forest Service. This would exclude the front country portions of national parks, and the vast majority of visitors. This would probably give a better representation of the hazards faced when in truly wild areas. The fatality rate might even be lower still.

I reduced my alcohol intake severely after a few years of rescuing fall victims with high blood alcohol content....
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#281161 - 06/18/16 10:56 PM Re: What will kill you in a National Park [Re: AKSAR]
clearwater Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 03/19/05
Posts: 1066
Loc: Channeled Scablands
Originally Posted By: AKSAR
Originally Posted By: clearwater
Five Alligator fatalities in the US in the last year.

17 bear fatalities since 2007 in north american.

The fatalities in the article I linked were from US National Parks, and the odds of death were calculated using those National Park fatality numbers against National Park visitor numbers.

To calculate odds of death using your 5 alligator fatalities in the US you would need to calculate those 5 deaths against the entire population of the US, which is a great deal larger than the number of National Park visitors.

Likewise for the 17 bear fatalities in "north American", to calculate odds of death you would need to calculate those 17 against the entire population of North America, including Canada and Mexico.

Bottom line is that a basic statistical calculation using your numbers will very likely show an even lower chance of death from bears or alligators than do the National Park statistics.


Comparing the entire population is not the same. One can only compare the population that visits where the threat is located. Few people staying in Kansas are hit by tsunami's. Visitors to the Canadian Rockies won't be eaten by Alligators.

"What will kill you" figures you link are only useful in the most general sense. Water is dangerous etc.

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#281162 - 06/19/16 04:09 AM Re: What will kill you in a National Park [Re: clearwater]
AKSAR Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 08/31/11
Posts: 1120
Loc: Alaska
Originally Posted By: clearwater
Comparing the entire population is not the same. One can only compare the population that visits where the threat is located. Few people staying in Kansas are hit by tsunami's. Visitors to the Canadian Rockies won't be eaten by Alligators.
True, not may people in Alberta are eaten by gators, so perhaps we should restrict it to those area where alligators are present (Florida, Louisiana, Texas). Of course some of those people the gators got were visitors to Florida, as was the recent child at Disney, so we probably need to somehow include all those many tourists who visit Florida.

On the other hand, bears are present to some extent in almost all parts of North America. Indeed the Wikipedia article on bear fatalities has some nice maps showing that people tangle with bears in most regions of N America. So putting those 17 bear fatalities against all or at least a large portion of the population of N America isn't quite so unreasonable as it seems.

That is the beauty of the National Park Statistics. The data is from one agency, which provides some measure of consistency in the data (as opposed to compilations of anecdotal accounts). And the data is only from the parks, and so doesn't include urban areas outside the parks.

Originally Posted By: c learwater
"What will kill you" figures you link are only useful in the most general sense. Water is dangerous etc.

Yes, that was exactly of the point of my original post. For example, (in a general sense) the data quite clearly shows that "cold exposure" kills almost 5 times as many park visitors as bears. And "heat exposure" (nods towards hikermor's desert SAR experiences) kills more that 8 times as many park visitors as bears.

Please note that I am NOT saying that there is no risk from bears in the wild (or alligators or rattlesnakes or cougars, or whatever). "Low risk" is not the same as "no risk". What I am saying is that people's fears about various outdoor dangers are often way out of sync with what the real data shows about those dangers.
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"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more."
-Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz

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#281163 - 06/19/16 04:29 AM Re: What will kill you in a National Park [Re: AKSAR]
Robert_McCall Offline
Stranger

Registered: 12/27/14
Posts: 14
Originally Posted By: AKSAR
The fatalities in the article I linked were from US National Parks, and the odds of death were calculated using those National Park fatality numbers against National Park visitor numbers.


Then the stats are meaningless, because they don't take into account which visitors were likely exposed to which dangers, and how often. Tons of people visit the Parks and never leave pavement. Therefore is it accurate to estimate an overnight backpacker's risk of a bear problem by including Mom & Pop Stay-In-A-Hotel in the stats? During my trips to Yellowstone I spend lots of time in the backcountry. My risk from bears is far higher than that of tourists, just by the sheer duration and location of my exposure.

It's like estimating the risk of getting hurt climbing in Yosemite by dividing the number of climbing accidents by the overall number of visitors to Yosemite... the vast majority of which never climb. That is hyperbole, of course, but again plenty of Park visitors show up in motor homes and are never exposed to anything more dangerous than road accidents.

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#281165 - 06/19/16 11:57 AM Re: What will kill you in a National Park [Re: Robert_McCall]
M_a_x Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 08/16/02
Posts: 1029
Loc: Germany
Whether the statistics are meaningful or not depends on the questions you ask. Basically the stastics do not tell you anything about your personal risk.
When you have to manage resources for keeping the visitors save, the actual odds may not be relevant at all. Trends for causes and locations may be far more interesting.
When the backpackers have virtually no problems with bears, it just means that it may not be a good use of resources when you try to lower the risk even more. OTH it does not mean you can neglect the precautions to avoid unpleasant encounters with bears when entering their turf.
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#281166 - 06/19/16 01:38 PM Re: What will kill you in a National Park [Re: M_a_x]
hikermor Offline
Geezer in Chief
Geezer

Registered: 08/26/06
Posts: 6648
Loc: southern Cal
Even SAR stats, carefully collected by one agency, can be tricky. I noticed that we often had ops for immobile victims with injuries to legs, compared with very few for arms. Many people with a tweaked arm simply self evacuated and got themselves to treatment. I even did this myself a couple of times....

The main point, that often we obsess about less likely causes of accidents, like bears, and overlook the more common and mundane sources of grief.

Oddly enough, in the rescue environment of the 70s and mid 80s, responses to victims with uncomplicated hyperthermia and dehydration were quite rare, with more numerous responses to cold injuries in the mountains or during winter. Drownings (yes, in the desert) were almost as common as falls, by far the most significant hazard.

The scene is quite different today, due to border crossings.....
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#281176 - 06/19/16 07:39 PM Re: What will kill you in a National Park [Re: Robert_McCall]
AKSAR Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 08/31/11
Posts: 1120
Loc: Alaska
Originally Posted By: Robert_McCall
Then the stats are meaningless, because they don't take into account which visitors were likely exposed to which dangers, and how often. Tons of people visit the Parks and never leave pavement. Therefore is it accurate to estimate an overnight backpacker's risk of a bear problem by including Mom & Pop Stay-In-A-Hotel in the stats? During my trips to Yellowstone I spend lots of time in the backcountry. My risk from bears is far higher than that of tourists, just by the sheer duration and location of my exposure.
The absolute statistical numbers aren't that useful, for the reasons that you point out.

However, the relative numbers do tell a very useful story. Note that I used the example of bears vs cold exposure. I think we can reasonably assume that the 19 people who died from cold exposure did not freeze to death in their hotel rooms. Ditto for the 26 who died from heat exposure, the 33 who died in avalanches, and the 176 who died from falls. It is a fairly safe bet that vast majority of those deaths were not in the front country.

While your risk from bears is certainly higher in the backcountry than for those tourists who stay in the front country, the fact remains that the number of people killed by bears in the backcountry is far lower than those killed by cold, heat, falls, or avalanches.

For another (non statistical) take on this, take a look at Search and Rescue: Lessons from the Field, from Yosemite National Park. A number of issues due to cold and weather. Lots of injuries from falls, including quite a few from hikers rather than climbers. But only one injury from an animal, a non-fatal rattlesnake bite.

Again, let me reiterate. I'm not suggesting that there is no danger from bears. I've lived, worked, and played in Alaska for more than 30 years, in all seasons. Hiking, backpacking, hunting, backcountry skiing, sea kayaking etc etc. I've encountered lots of bears. An acquaintance of mine (a highly experienced former guide and now park employee) was mauled by a grizzly not far from his house on the outskirts of Anchorage. However, only once or twice in all that time outside have I thought I was likely to be injured by a bear. On the other hand there have been many more times when dying of hypothermia was a distinct possibility.

When out in the boonies I try to maintain situational awareness, make noise in the brush, keep a clean camp, and carry bear spray. However, in my opinion based on my personal experience, on any given outing I am at far greater risk from the elements and/or falls and other mishaps than I am from bears. The available data, imperfect though it is, supports that opinion.
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"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more."
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