Bear that fatally attacked woman near Montana-Idaho border sought

Authorities searched for a grizzly bear Monday that attacked and killed a woman over the weekend on a trail near the Montana-Idaho border.

The victim’s body was found Saturday morning by a hiker on the Buttermilk Trail, about 8 miles west of the town of West Yellowstone, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks said in a statement. The woman’s body was a few hundred yards from a trailhead and private campground.

Game wardens and bear specialists, along with staff from other agencies, found that the woman had “wounds consistent with a bear attack,” according to the department.

While authorities did not see any bears, the department said they found tracks from an adult grizzly bear and at least one cub near the site. Morgan Jacobsen with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks said there was no sign the bear tried to eat the victim, who seemed to have been jogging when she was fatally attacked.

“This person was likely out for a morning jog along the trail and that’s when this happened,” Jacobsen told the Associated Press.

The victim’s name has not been released. She was wearing running shoes at the time of the incident and did not have bear spray, an aerosol deterrent that wildlife experts recommend people carry in areas frequented by bears, according to Jacobsen.

Authorities were unable to confirm if the victim was preyed upon or if it was a chance encounter.

West Yellowstone is a vacation town, attracting tourists during the busy summer season and is a gateway to Yellowstone National Park.

The attack occurred near an area with a high concentration of vacation lodges, rental cabins, private residences and campgrounds. The hiking trail is also commonly used for ATVs and other off-road vehicles.

Emergency closures issued as authorities search for bear

Rangers issued an emergency closure for areas of the Custer Gallatin National Forest, including the Buttermilk area, which is popular among hikers. The closure does not include Yellowstone National Park.

Jacobsen said a trail camera had captured an image of a grizzly bear with two cubs in the area on Saturday night but there have been no sightings since.

Authorities set up traps for the bears on Saturday and Sunday nights but were unsuccessful. An aircraft was also used to attempt to find the bears but none were found.

According to Jacobsen, the department has yet to decide if they would kill or relocate the adult bear if it is captured. He noted that traps become less effective over time because of the possibility of other bears not involved in the attack coming to the area.

Local resident Bill Youngwirth told the Associated Press that people in the area were unalarmed by the attack and forest closure. Youngwirth said people believe the mother bear may have acted out of defense.

The attack happened about a mile from several vacation homes that Youngwirth rents near the forest.

“I tell everybody, ‘Better take bear spray and know how to use it,'” he said. “And the big thing is, don’t go alone.”

Rise in grizzly bear populations

Grizzly bear populations in the northern U.S. Rocky Mountains have significantly climbed over the past several years, increasing the likelihood of people encountering them in more places each year.

In recent years, grizzly bears have appeared in areas where they aren’t typically seen or haven’t been seen for generations. While bear attacks in the region are rare, grizzly bears in the Yellowstone area have killed at least nine people since 2010.

Though grizzly bears are protected by federal law in states outside of Alaska, officials in the Yellowstone region have pushed for grizzly hunting and to lift protections.

Last week, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks warned people about confirmed grizzly bear sightings throughout the state, “particularly in areas between the Northern Continental Divide and the Great Yellowstone ecosystems.”

Officials have urged visitors to take precautions to avoid negative bear encounters.

Contributing: David Murray, Great Falls Tribune; Associated Press

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