A woman was found dead after « an apparent encounter with a bear » on a trail near West Yellowstone, Mont., officials said in a statement Sunday, noting that grizzly bear tracks had been found at the scene.
The woman’s body, whose name and age were not disclosed, was found Saturday on the Buttermilk Trail west of West Yellowstone, a town of about 1,200 residents about a mile from Yellowstone National Park.
Officials of the Custer Gallatin National Forest, which is part of the Yellowstone ecosystemissued an emergency shutdown for parts west of West Yellowstone to address what it described in a statement as « human safety concerns » related to bear activity.
The circumstances of the woman’s death are unclear. Custer Gallatin National Forest and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday evening.
Saturday morning, the Custer Gallatin National Forest warned on Facebook that the Buttermilk Trail and surrounding areas have been closed due to bear activity.
Grizzly bears, that are a federally protected subspecies of brown bears in all of the lower 48 states under the Endangered Species Act roam throughout Montana. Their populations have expanded statewide in recent years, and in some cases, grizzlies have been sighted in places they hadn’t been seen in more than a century, including the Pryor Mountains, where the species likely hadn’t been seen since the late 1800s, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks said in a statement.
That expansion « improves long-term prospects for population sustainability » for bears but also « poses new challenges » for Montanans because the animals can damage property or injure people, the department She said.
Officials have warned visitors of « be aware”, prompting concern among some residents, who have reported more sightings.
Grizzlies are larger than black bears, with adults standing over eight feet when reared on their hind legs. The average weight of a grizzly bear is 400 to 500 pounds for males and 250 to 350 for females. And bears can run up to 35 miles per hour.
Last month, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks posted an undated photo of a grizzly bear nearly as tall as a shed, its long, curved claws cutting through chunks of wood.
This month, the department said a grizzly bear was captured and euthanized after it had « several conflicts with people » along a reservoir in Flathead County, about 380 miles northwest of West Yellowstone. The male grizzly bear was « conditioned food and accustomed » to people, to the department She saidwhich typically means that the bears had sought or obtained food from people, destroyed property, or exhibited aggressive behavior toward people.
The chances of being attacked by a grizzly bear, however, are extremely rare. Since Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872, only eight people have been killed by bears in the park, most recently in 2015. according to the National Park Service. Since 1979, 44 people have been injured by grizzly bears at the park, which has seen more than 118 million visitors in that time.
« More people in the park have died from drowning (125 incidents) and burns (after falling into hot springs, 23 incidents) than have been killed by bears, » the service said.
Still, the danger is real, and officials have pointed out several tips to the Montanans: bring and know how to use bear spray; travel in groups when possible and plan to go out during daylight hours; avoid carcass sites and concentrations of crows and other scavengers.
Officials are also advising residents to look out for signs of bears, such as torn logs and overturned rocks, partially eaten animal carcasses and bear droppings. Visitors to the park or trail should also make noises to alert bears to their presence, particularly when approaching streams or walking through dense forest.
The final tip is simple: « Don’t go near a bear. »
A town hall meeting is scheduled Monday evening to discuss bears in Big Timber, a town of about 1,600 people more than 90 miles north of Yellowstone.