No Quick Answer to Fatal Bear Attack

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August 13, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

Two campgrounds in Montana's Gallatin National Forest were reopened Aug. 2 following an emergency closure after a grizzly bear mauled three people, one fatally, in nearby Soda Butte Campground.

Soda Butte Campground remains closed, but the forest reopened Chief Joseph and Colter campgrounds, placing a hard-side-only restriction in both locations, the Cody (Wyo.) Enterprise reported.

All three campgrounds are located just east of Cooke City, Mont., along the Beartooth Scenic Byway (U.S. 212).

The Shoshone Forest's hard-side only restrictions at Crazy Creek and Fox Creek campgrounds were lifted for a time but reinstated this week due to "increased bear activity," a forest spokesman said.

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) verified that the four grizzly bears captured following the incident were those involved in the attacks.

"This verification has addressed the initial concern for public safety at Chief Joseph and Colter campgrounds," according to a Gallatin forest press release.

Although the grizzly bears responsible for the attacks were removed, forest officials remind visitors to remain vigilant because of the presence of bears throughout the greater Yellowstone area.

Soda Butte Campground will remain closed while Gallatin Forest managers determine how best to administer the facility.

Specifically, Soda Butte Campground, including the riparian area down to Soda Butte Creek, is closed to human entry.

Andrea Jones of Bozeman, public information officer for FWP, said reports of bear baiting in the vicinity prior to the attacks remained unconfirmed last week.

She said the female grizzly responsible for mauling two people and killing a third July 28 was euthanized, and preliminary tests indicate she was "10-plus years old," and thin, but not starving, Jones said.

Her three cubs also were of somewhat lower body weight than normal, but experts said that could be attributable to there being three cubs.

"We're not calling (the mother bear) starving," Jones said. "But she was not young, and she weighed 221 pounds."

Normally, a female grizzly of that age would weigh 300-400 pounds, Jones added.

"There were plenty of natural foods in the vicinity" of the attacks, however, Jones added.

She termed the attacks "predatory" and said necropsy and tissue tests on the sow grizzly — the results of which are expected within about a week — should reveal any medical problems the bear might have had.

"She did not have rabies," Jones said, adding that one mauling victim had been concerned about the presence of that disease.

Jones said both adult and "cub bear hair" was found at the site of the attack on Deb Freele, 58, of London, Ontario, Canada, who sustained both left arm and left leg wounds in the attack.

That indicates, Jones said, that the cubs were present during the attacks, and possibly participated in them, though that is unknown.

"Cubs will be with the mother and attentive to what the mother is doing," Jones said after conferring with an agency bear biologist.

"All cub behavior is learned from the mother — she teaches them everything."

She said cubs stay with their mothers and still may be nursing into their second summer of life, though the mother's milk is not a vital food source for them by that time.

The cubs captured at Soda Butte Campground were 18 months old.

Jones added that the situation of a bear going bad "has happened before with both black and grizzly bears, though it is rare."

She said bears are omnivores, eating both meat and vegetable material, "but they are still predators."

There won't be a quick answer to what happened at Soda Butte Campground, if there is any answer at all, she added, "There was no obvious reason for the attacks," Jones said.

"The sow was not injured, but her overall health is being examined for more clues," Jones added.

"With wild animals, there are no guarantees," she said.

The three grizzly cubs were trapped and are on "permanent loan" to Zoo Montana in Billings.

"They could not be returned to the wild," Jones added.

Gallatin Forest officials remind people visiting anywhere on the Gallatin Forest to follow food storage regulations by appropriately storing all attractants. Visitors are also asked to have bear spray readily available in case of a negative bear encounter, and whenever possible to travel in groups of two or more.

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