Aug 10, 2015

Yellowstone officials' plan to kill bears involved in fatal attack sparks controversy

Hundreds of people from around the world have taken to Yellowstone National Park's Facebook page to protest park managers' plans to euthanize the bear or bears who fatally attacked a hiker last week.

Park officials identified the deceased as 63-year-old Lance Crosby of Billings on Monday. He had worked at an urgent care clinic in Yellowstone for five seasons and was an experienced hiker.

An autopsy was scheduled for Monday afternoon, but the preliminary conclusion of park officials was that a grizzly attack killed Crosby sometime between Thursday and midday Friday.

A grizzly sow and two cubs are shown near Fishing Bridge in the May 2015 file photo. Photo courtesy Jim Peaco, National Park Service
A Yellowstone park ranger found Crosby's body about a half-mile off the Elephant Back Mountain loop trail, not far from the Lake Village area. It appeared a bear or bears ate part of his body and then “cached” it, indicating the animal planned to keep eating it. 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 involved in the incident.

If park officials can figure out which grizzly or grizzlies killed Crosby and catch them, the plan is to kill the animals.

“The decision to euthanize a bear is one that we do not take lightly. As park managers, we are constantly working to strike a balance between the preservation of park resources and the safety of our park visitors and employees,” Yellowstone superintendent Dan Wenk said in a Monday statement. “Our decision is based on the totality of the circumstances in this unfortunate event.”

The late Lance Crosby is shown in this photo released by the National Park Service to various media outlets
The last fatal grizzly bear-human encounters in Yellowstone took place in 2011, when bears killed two people in separate incidents. Park officials initially spared the life of a mother bear who killed a California man in July 2011 because it appeared to have only been protecting her cubs. However, the sow was later put down after it at least visited the site of a Michigan man's fatal mauling the following month.

On Friday, park personnel set up traps in the area near the Elephant Back Mountain loop trail and later caught a female grizzly. Biologists have collected scat samples, paw measurements, and DNA evidence from the bear that they plan to use to see whether it’s the same one present at the scene of Crosby’s death.

Former Wyoming Game and Fish large carnivore management section supervisor Mark Bruscino wrote in a Facebook comment on the Wyoming Wildlife Advocates page that, You could reasonably assume that it was defensive if the bear had not cached and consumed the victim.

Bruscino said females with cubs “are very capable of killing humans for food.” He noted a 2010 incident where a female grizzly fatally attacked a man sleeping in a tent at a campground just outside Cooke City, Montana.

“Since it is likely that the investigative team (on Crosby's death) will never know, for sure, if the attack was predatory or defensive it is a very wise decision to remove the bear and let the niche be filled with another bear that will hopefully avoid humans at all costs,” Bruscino wrote.

However, the plan to put down any bears involved in the attack has also drawn passionate objections on social media, including a petition on Change.org.

A couple thousand comments had been posted to Yellowstone’s official Facebook page on the subject as of Monday. Many called on park officials to spare the bears’ lives.

“Everyone is saddened by this (individual’s) death but anyone that goes to the mountains knows that if they are hiking, there is a chance that someday they could be attacked by a bear, cougar etc,” posted Floridian Linda Brechon.

Others weren’t so tactful.

“If you guys are seriously going to put down a bear for having killed a tourist (we are talking about a national park, where animals are supposedly wild and allowed to roam freely in their natural habitat), you all need to quit your jobs and go into some other profession that doesn’t require any thinking or assessment of the consequences,” wrote Canadian Paul Miazga. “Why not fumigate the entire park if someone gets a mosquito bite? Or de-foliate it (because) someone gets a rash from poison ivy? Get a brain, you muppets.”

Park officials posted a series of responses to the criticism.

“Deciding to kill a bear is difficult,” they wrote in one response. “We don't know what led to the attack and probably never will. However, we do know that the bear fed on the body and cached it with the apparent intent of returning. We do not want bears considering humans as food.”

Officials later added that, with millions of visitors in the park each year, they couldn't take the chance of having a bear become used to the idea of humans being food. They noted that Yellowstone may be at its carrying capacity for grizzlies.

“We do not want bears considering humans as food.” park officials said.

The Elephant Back Loop Trail and immediate area has been closed until further notice.

"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 Monday's news release.

Crosby was alone and did not appear to have been carrying bear spray, park officials have said.

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