Aug 8, 2015

Dead Yellowstone hiker had been attacked by grizzly bear, officials say

A Montana man found dead in Yellowstone National Park on Friday had been attacked by a grizzly bear, officials say.

"While the exact cause of death has not been determined, investigators have identified what appear to be defensive wounds on the victim’s forearms," Yellowstone officials said in a Saturday news release.

Park personnel set up traps in the area near the Elephant Back Mountain loop trail on Friday and "if bears are trapped and identified as having been involved in the attack, they will be euthanized," the release said.

“We may not be able to conclusively determine the circumstances of this bear attack, but we will not risk public safety,” Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk said in a statement.

A view of Pelican Valley from the Elephant Back trail, including the Yellowstone River and Absaroka Range. 1997 photo courtesy Jim Peaco, National Park Service
The name of the deceased hiker has not yet been released because authorities are still notifying his family. Park officials said the man was a seasonal employee with Medcor, a company that operates the urgent care clinics in Yellowstone. He'd worked and lived in the park for five years and was an experienced hiker, the park said. Co-workers reported him missing on Friday when he didn't show up for work.

“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy and our hearts go out to the family and friends of the victim as they work to cope with the loss of someone who loved Yellowstone so very much,” Wenk said in the release.

The victim’s body was found partially consumed and "cached" (that is, covered) in the vicinity of the Elephant Back Loop Trail near Lake Village on Friday afternoon. It was about a half-a-mile off the looped trail, in a popular area the man had been known to visit.

On Friday, park rangers and wildlife biologists gathered possible genetic material from the scene that they hope will help them identify the bear(s) involved in the man's death. Based on partial tracks at the scene, park officials said it appears an adult female grizzly and at least one cub-of-the-year were there.

“We may not be able to conclusively determine the circumstances of this bear attack, but we will not risk public safety,” said Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk. 

The investigation was continuing on Saturday, though heavy rain was making some of the work more difficult.

The Elephant Back Loop Trail and immediate area is closed until further notice. Signs are posted and maps of the closure area are available at park visitor centers.

"Hikers are advised to stay on designated trails, travel in groups of three or more people, carry bear spray, be alert for bears, and make noise to help avoid surprise encounters," said Saturday's news release, noting that bears can roam any part of the park.

The last fatal grizzly bear-human encounters in Yellowstone took place in 2011, when bears killed two people in separate incidents.

The Elephant Back trail is just northeast of Lake Village. Graphic courtesy National Park Service

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