Woman found dead after suspected grizzly bear attack near Yellowstone National Park

A woman was found dead after a suspected grizzly bear attack near Yellowstone National Park, wildlife officials said over the weekend.  

The woman was discovered following an “apparent bear encounter” Saturday morning on Buttermilk Trail, which is located west of West Yellowstone, a town close to the famed national park, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks said in a statement Sunday. Investigators found grizzly bear tracks at the scene and the investigation is ongoing. 

The nearby Custer Gallatin National Forest also issued an emergency closure to address “bear/human safety concerns.”

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A grizzly bear photographed in Wyoming at an unspecified date.

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Wildlife officials said bears can be found throughout Montana and, in recent years, grizzly bear populations have expanded. They released a list of precautionary steps to take before venturing outdoors, which includes carrying and knowing how to use bear spray, traveling in groups and during daylight hours and avoiding carcass sights or concentrations of ravens and other scavengers. The department also said to watch for signs such as bear scat, diggings, turned-over rocks and partly consumed animal carcasses.

Still, bear attacks are fairly rare at Yellowstone. The park said it averages about one bear attack per year. According to the National Park Service (NPS), eight people have been killed by bears at Yellowstone National Park since it was established in 1872. 

“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 NPS said. “To put it in perspective, the probability of being killed by a bear in the park (8 incidents) is only slightly higher than the probability of being killed by a falling tree (7 incidents), in an avalanche (6 incidents), or being struck and killed by lightning (5 incidents).”

Last year, a grizzly bear fatally mauled a Montana man near Yellowstone National Park. Investigators said the bear was likely defending a moose carcass and may have continued to aggressively guard the cache because of a recent fight with another grizzly.

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