August 7, 2015: A hiker was found dead in Yellowstone, apparently from a grizzly bear attack. The victim was 63-year-old Lance Crosby from Billings Montana.
Crosby was a long-time employee at the medical clinics inside the park. He had worked and lived in Yellowstone for 5 summers and was an experienced hiker. This makes the story all the more puzzling - Crosby was aware of the dangers in the backcountry. Against safe hiking protocol, he was hiking alone and without bear spray when he was killed, according to park officials. There is also speculation that he was jogging. Running from a bear can trigger an attack.
After he didn't show up for work and was reported as missing, a park ranger found his body about half a mile from the Elephant Back Loop Trail in a popular off-trail area. This trail is in the Lake Village area of Yellowstone. The trail is now closed until further notice.
Crosby's body was found partially consumed and covered. Partial tracks at the scene indicate that a female grizzly and at least one cub were at the scene and likely involved in the attack. While the exact cause of death has not been determined, investigators have identified what appear to be defensive wounds on Crosby’s forearms.
To find the specific animal responsible for the death, bear traps were set in the area. Overnight a female grizzly was captured. A cub was captured the next day. Park staff are also looking for another cub. DNA testing will confirm whether the captured grizzly is the attacker. If this bear is responsible, she will be killed. The traps remain in the area but so far no other bears have been caught.
“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,” said Dan Wenk, superintendent of Yellowstone in a press release. “Our decision is based on the totality of the circumstances in this unfortunate event. Yellowstone has had a grizzly bear management program since 1983. The primary goals of this program are to minimize bear-human interactions, prevent human-caused displacement of bears from prime food sources, and to decrease the risk of bear-caused human injuries.”
Hikers are advised to stay on designated trails, leave an itinerary with others, hike in groups of three or more people, be alert for bears, make noise, and carry bear spray.
Learn more about Yellowstone's grizzly bears
Controversy About Killing the Bear
There is a petition circulating social media to save the grizzly from being euthanized. The objection is that the grizzly was protecting her cub and should not be punished. The hiker was in her home. The topic is extremely complicated. If this were merely a grizzly momma defending her child, then the matter may be simpler and relocation of the bear could be a possibility. However, this grizzly didn't just attack, it consumed its victim and then "cached" or covered the body. This is typical behavior to save a food source so that they can come back later. Grizzlies don't normally eat humans. If this grizzly bear considers humans as a food source, that becomes a bigger problem.
Yellowstone Staff Explain Grizzly Killing Decision
Montana Public Radio asked Kerry Gunther, Yellowstone's Bear Management Biologist, if there is scientific evidence that grizzlies that have attacked humans once are more likely to do so again. The biologist's answer was basically "no" but the park doesn't want to take that chance with public safety.
Dan Wenk, Yellowstone's Superintendent added, "It's an incredibly difficult decision... For everyone who's advocating for the preservation of this bear, there were an equal number of voices who were basically telling me at that time that bear should be removed."
In 2011, Should We Have Killed a Bear After Its First Attack?
The National Park Service records show that between 1980 and 2011, 32 people have been injured by grizzly bears in Yellowstone's backcountry. That's an average of 1 per year. Injuries from black bear attacks happened less frequently. Only four of those people were fatally injured, two of which were in 2011.
As reported by The New York Times, on July 6 of 2011, a couple was hiking when the husband was killed by an adult female grizzly bear with two cubs. They were on the Wapiti Lake Trail in Hayden Valley. The wife of the victim had taken photos of the bears from a distance prior to the attack, making identification easy. After her husband was mauled, the woman hid on the ground beside a fallen tree. The bear did approach and pick her up but eventually discarded her unharmed.
Two months later on August 26th, another day hiker, hiking by himself, was killed by a grizzly bear on the Mary Mountain Trail also in Hayden Valley. The two attacks were less than eight miles apart and were the first fatalities caused by bears in 25 years. DNA gotten from hair and scat samples showed that the first female grizzly had also been at the second scene. The sow had not been euthanized after the first attack because the hiker had provoked her by running and yelling for help. It had been ruled a defensive attack.
After the second attack, the bear now nicknamed "the Wapiti sow" was killed with reservation and remorse. It was not determined if she had been the attacker in the second situation. She may had just stumbled upon the scene after the death and there was evidence that up to four bears had eaten parts of the second hiker's body. Five grizzly bears had also been spotted feeding on a bison carcass nearby. Yet, because of her involvement with the first death, she was the only one put down.
The grizzly's cubs were taken to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, a non-profit educational center that harbors displaced wild animals.
No Penalty to Bears Attacking Naturally in 2013
Two people received minor injuries from a grizzly on August 15, 2013. Everyone was able to escape with relatively minor injuries and were released from medical care within the day.
The incident happened on a hiking trail in the Canyon Village area of Yellowstone. The hikers got too close to the bear's cub and the grizzly acted on instinct. The hikers used bear spray and then played dead, exactly what they should have done in the circumstance.
A second attack happened on the same day to two BLM employees about 70 miles west of Yellowstone. Again, the attack was stopped with the use of bear spray and their injuries were minor.
The bears received no penalty for defending themselves in their homes.