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.
"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more."
-Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz