Aug 13, 2015

Grizzly bear euthanized after killing Yellowstone hiker; cubs to go to zoo

Yellowstone National Park officials have euthanized a female grizzly bear after concluding it was the animal that killed and fed on a hiker last week. They plan to place the bear's two cubs at a zoo.

An autopsy confirmed that Lance Crosby, a 63-year-old Billings, Montana, resident, died from injuries in the attack; DNA from hair samples collected near Crosby’s body matched the female grizzly, park officials said. Further, the bear and her cubs had been near the body when rangers found it on Friday, Aug. 7, off the Elephant Back Loop Trail.

A grizzly sow nurses two cubs near Fishing Bridge in May 2015. National Park Service photo by Jim Peaco

“An important fact in the decision to euthanize the bear was that a significant portion of the body was consumed and cached (that is, covered) with the intent to return for further feeding,” Yellowstone spokeswoman Amy Bartlett said in a Thursday news release. “Normal defensive attacks by female bears defending their young do not involve consumption of the victim’s body.”

Crosby was killed sometime between Thursday, Aug. 6 and Friday, Aug. 7, park officials have said. He was about a half-mile off the popular Elephant Back trail, not far from the Lake Village area. The bear was captured Aug. 7 and put down on Thursday.

Many wildlife advocates called upon Yellowstone officials to spare the life of the mother grizzly, which some photographers believe is the animal they'd unofficially named “Blaze.”

“She did what grizzly sows are famous for doing: defending her cubs from a perceived threat. This was a grizzly being a grizzly in grizzly territory,” read one petition, which had garnered more than 120,000 signatures from all over the world as of Thursday afternoon. “Blaze and her cubs do not deserve to be killed because someone didn't take necessary steps to avoid a confrontation.”

Yellowstone’s official Facebook page has been inundated with feedback ever since park officials announced they were thinking about euthanizing whichever bear attacked Crosby.

“Murderers,” wrote Facebook user Yolanda B. Belinsky on the park’s page on Thursday afternoon. “I won't be visiting your park any time soon. Have fun catering to all the foolish tourists — those of us who value bears will go elsewhere.”

“Given little or no conclusive scientific or statistical data to guide their decision-making leaves the National Park Service with little choice. They must err on the side of caution. There are just too many bears and too many humans in close proximity,” Wyoming Wildlife Advocates said in a statement.

However, others have backed the park service’s decision, often citing the concern that the bears might have come to correlate people with food.

“There is some evidence that indicates that a bear that has killed a human will not necessarily do so again. ... But, given the small statistical base, it is hard to consider this evidence conclusive,” wrote the Jackson-based Wyoming Wildlife Advocates group in a statement. “Given little or no conclusive scientific or statistical data to guide their decision-making leaves the National Park Service with little choice. They must err on the side of caution. There are just too many bears and too many humans in close proximity.”

Yellowstone superintendent Dan Wenk said park managers must balance the preservation of park resources with public safety.

“Our decision takes into account the facts of the case, the goals of the bear management program, and the long term viability of the grizzly bear population as a whole, rather than an individual bear,” Wenk said in a Thursday statement.

The attack occurred about a half-mile off the Elephant Back trail, north of Lake Village. Graphic courtesy National Park Service
The Elephant Back Loop Trail and Natural Bridge Trail, which were closed following the attack, will be reopened on Friday.

In the news release, Yellowstone officials reminded visitors that all of the park is bear country. They encouraged hikers to travel in groups of three or more, always carry bear spray that is readily accessible, make noise on the trail and remain alert.

More information on hiking in bear country is available at http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/bearsafety.htm

Crosby was alone and did not appear to have bear spray, park officials have said. He was an experienced hiker who had spent five seasons working for Medcor, a company that runs the urgent care clinics inside Yellowstone.

Crosby's death was the first fatal grizzly encounter in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem since 2011.

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