Authorities could not say for sure whether the victim was prey or if it was an accidental encounter as she was traveling alone in an area frequented by bears.
WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont – Authorities searched Monday for a grizzly bear attack and kill a woman on a trail west of Yellowstone National Park near the Montana-Idaho border.
The victim’s body was found Saturday morning a few hundred yards (meters) from the trailhead and private campsite. Morgan Jacobsen of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said there was no indication that the bear, who was traveling with at least one of them, attempted to eat the victim, who appeared to be jogging when she was mauled to death.
Authorities said the woman’s injuries were “consistent with a bear attack.” But they can’t say for sure if she has eat meat or whether it was a chance encounter when she was traveling alone in a wooded area frequented by grizzly and black bears.
Authorities said a hiker found her body along the trail around 8 a.m. Saturday. The victim’s name has not been released. She wears running shoes and doesn’t have bear spray, a deterrent that wildlife experts recommend people bring in areas frequented by bears, Jacobsen said.
“This person could have been out for a morning jog along the trail and that’s when this happened,” says Jacobsen.
Traces of one grizzly bear and at least one cub were found at the scene of the attack, which occurred near Buttermilk Trailhead, 8 miles (13 km) west of West Yellowstone, a busy summer tourist town and gateway to the national park.
Hiking trails are also used by those using ATVs and other off-road vehicles.
Rangers have issued an emergency closure order for parts of the Custer Gallatin National Forest. It does not include Yellowstone National Park.
Local resident Bill Youngwirth said people in the area were aware of the assault and the forest closure, but did not panic about the attack due to speculation that it was a mother bear attacking in defense after being taken by surprise when she approached a street corner.
The attack happened about a mile (1.6 km) from several holiday homes Youngwirth rented near the woods.
“I tell people, ‘Better bring bear spray and know how to use it,'” he said. “And the important thing is don’t go it alone.”
A trail camera captured a grizzly bear with two in the area on Saturday night. Jacobsen says no one has seen him since. Traps set for the bears on Saturday and Sunday evenings were fruitless, and attempts to locate the bears from a plane were unsuccessful.
Jacobsen said authorities have not yet decided whether they will re-set the trap Monday night or decide whether they will kill or relocate the adult bear if it is caught.
As time goes on, he adds, trapping becomes less effective as the chance of catching a bear that doesn’t participate in the attack increases.
The grizzly bear population in the northern Rocky Mountains of the United States has increased dramatically over the past few years, and in recent years the grizzly bear has appeared in places where it has not been seen for generations. Since 2010, grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone have killed at least nine people. Attacks are still relatively rare in the region, which attracts several million tourists each summer.
ONE backcountry guide was killed near West Yellowstone two years ago when he was struck by a large grizzly bear that wildlife officials say was probably guarding the carcass of a nearby moose. And a the climber was killed north of Yellowstone Park last year during a suspicious encounter with grizzly in a remote area of the Absaroka Mountains south of Livingston, Montana.
Human encounters can also be deadly for bears: A five-year-old female grizzly bear in Glacier National Park was euthanized last week after officials said it had become accustomed to eating food from campsites and had become increasingly aggressive.
Grizzlies are protected under federal law outside of Alaska. Elected officials in the Yellowstone area are working to lift protections and allow grizzly bear hunting.
State officials last week warned visitors and residents about grizzly sightings across the state, “particularly in areas between the Northern Continent Divide and Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.”
They urge campers and park visitors to bring bear spray, store food when outside and clean up trash.
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