This June 7, 2005 file photo released by Yellowstone National Park shows a grizzly bear moving through the brush at the park in Wyoming. A grizzly mauled a man to death in Yellowstone National Park Wednesday, July 6, 2011, the first such death in the park in a quarter century but the third in the region in just over a year. Park officials are clearing the area of other hikers and warning people to stay away. Yellowstone and nearby surrounding areas are home to a growing number of grizzlies, at least 600 and some say more than 1,000. (AP Photo/Yellowstone National Park, James Peaco, File)
By MATT VOLZ
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. — Yellowstone National Park authorities will not try to capture a female grizzly that killed a backcountry hiker because it was trying to defend her cubs when she was surprised by the man, a spokesman said today.
Park spokesman Al Nash said Wednesday’s mauling of the 57-year-old man was a purely defensive act. He said Yellowstone typically does not try to capture or remove a bear in what he called “a wildlife incident.”
Wednesday’s attack occurred about 1-1/2 miles up a popular backcountry trail and was the first fatal grizzly attack inside the park in 25 years — but the third in the Yellowstone region in just over a year.
The attack occurred in an area that is one of Yellowstone’s top attractions, and busloads of tourists normally gather there to take in the view from Artist Point, one of the park’s most iconic. A stunning waterfall drops hundreds of feet in the canyon, and trails along both canyon rims are normally crawling with tourists.
The identity of the 57-year-old victim was being withheld until his family could be notified. His wife escaped serious injury, park officials said.
Nash said the couple saw the bear twice on their hike. The first time, they continued hiking. The second time, the grizzly charged them and the man told his wife to run. She called 911 on her cell phone, and other hikers in the area responded to her cries for help.
The woman told park officials she didn’t see the bear attack her husband. When the bear went for her, Nash said, she dropped to the ground. The grizzly lifted her off the ground by the day pack she was wearing, then dropped her.
The woman may have had scrapes and bruises but didn’t seek medical attention.
Yellowstone and surrounding areas are home at least 600 grizzlies — and some say more than 1,000. Once rare to behold, grizzlies have become an almost routine cause of curious tourists lining up at Yellowstone’s roadsides at the height of summer season.
Barbara and Carl Waxman, Baltimore residents making their first trip to Yellowstone, were dismayed when they found their path blocked by the barricades in the aftermath of the mauling.
Avid photographers, they had hoped to shoot a lookout where they had read a stunning early-morning rainbow could be seen above the falls.
“It’s like not being able to see the Mona Lisa,” Barbara Waxman said. “If they gave me the option, I’d go to that point in a second, grizzly bear or no.”
Carl Waxman said he’d had his own close encounter with a grizzly two days before on a trail above Old Faithful, which is southwest of the canyon area. He heard a noise behind him, turned and found a bear less than 20 yards away. He said he froze.
“He looked at me and kept meandering along,” Waxman said.
Some visitors said they didn’t know about the attack. Tourists staying at a campground in nearby Canyon Village said no rangers or park personnel told them about it.
Pavel and Igor Srom, visitors from the Czech Republic, said they saw groups of people hike around the barricades early Thursday. They stopped when a passing maintenance worker told them a bear had been seen, and park rangers soon arrived to turn away everyone.
Officials closed backcountry campgrounds in the area. The Wapiti Lake trailhead has a bear warning sign.
While lamenting the death, officials said they didn’t want to overemphasize the danger to visitors.
“This is a wild and natural park,” said Diane Shober, director of the state Wyoming Travel and Tourism agency. “At the same time, the likelihood of this happening again is small.”
It was the park’s first fatal grizzly mauling since 1986, but the third in the Yellowstone region in just over a year amid ever-growing numbers of grizzlies and tourists roaming the same wild landscape of scalding-hot geysers and sweeping mountain vistas.
Tourists have been flooding into Yellowstone in record numbers: 3.6 million last year, up 10 percent from 2009’s 3.3 million, also a record.
In June 2010, a grizzly just released after being tranquilized for study killed an Illinois man hiking outside Yellowstone’s east gate. Last July, a grizzly killed a Michigan man and injured two others in a nighttime campground rampage near Cooke City, Mont., northeast of the park.
B Grizzlies are an omnivorous species with a diet of berries, elk, fish, moths, ants and even pine nuts. In 2009, a federal judge restored threatened species protections for Yellowstone grizzlies, citing beetle-caused declines in the numbers of whitebark pine trees in the region. The protections had been lifted in 2007.
Officials routinely urge visitors to take precautions: Stay on designated trails, hike in groups of three or more, and make noise in places where a grizzly could be lurking. Bear spray — pressurized hot-pepper residue in a can — is effective in stopping aggressive bears, they said.
A spokesman for the Wyoming state tourism agency doubted the attack would cause anybody to change their Yellowstone vacation plans.
“What has happened here hasn’t happened for a quarter century,” Chuck Coon said. “It is very sad, though, and I’m very sorry to hear of it.”
Associated Press writers Ben Neary and Mead Gruver contributed to this report from Cheyenne, Wyo.