Second hiker killed by grizzly in Yellowstone

Posted 8/30/11

“We know of no witnesses” to the attack, park superintendent Dan Wenk said. “We think we provide visitors with pretty good knowledge and techniques to keep them safe in the backcountry. Unfortunately, in this case it didn’t happen that …

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Second hiker killed by grizzly in Yellowstone


Agents search for bear following fatal attack

BILLINGS (AP) — Wildlife agents were trying to capture a grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park after it killed a Michigan hiker in the second fatal bear attack this summer in the famed park, authorities said Monday.

The body of John Wallace, 59, was discovered Friday along a trail in an area of the park known for its high population of bears. An autopsy concluded he died from injuries sustained in a bear attack.

“We know of no witnesses” to the attack, park superintendent Dan Wenk said. “We think we provide visitors with pretty good knowledge and techniques to keep them safe in the backcountry. Unfortunately, in this case it didn’t happen that way.”

Rangers set traps and plan to kill the bear if they can establish through DNA analysis that it was the one that attacked Wallace, Wenk said.

There was too little information to know if it was a defensive attack or not, so Wenk said, “we’re going to err on the safe side of caution since we’ll never really know the circumstances in this case.”

Officials do not believe the same bear was involved in the summer’s earlier fatal mauling about eight miles away from where Wallace’s body was found. In July, a female bear with cubs killed a hiker from California. Officials did not kill the sow grizzly after concluding it was defending its cubs.

In the latest fatal attack, there were no sign of cubs in the area where Wallace was killed.

Wallace was apparently traveling alone and had pitched a tent in a developed campground sometime Wednesday, park officials said.

Authorities said he likely was killed Wednesday or Thursday during a hike along the Mary Mountain Trail, which is closed from March to June. It passes through an area frequented by grizzlies feeding on the carcasses of bison that died over the winter, park officials said.

The trail is typically re-opened for public use on June 15, after the carcasses have been eaten, park spokesman Al Nash said.

“They are closed for the bears’ benefit, not for humans, to provide some security so bears can go in and use those areas without human disturbance,” said Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

There are “a lot of bears” in the area where Wallace was killed, he said. Servheen said only a portion of the animals have had DNA testing.

Wallace’s body was about five miles from the nearest trailhead and authorities said he was not carrying bear spray — mace-like canisters of pepper spray that can be used to defend against bear attacks.

Investigators found a snack bar in his closed backpack, but authorities said it did not appear the grizzly tried to get at the food. Rangers also found grizzly tracks and scat, or bear droppings, near Wallace’s body.

Wallace, of Chassell, Mich., worked for about 20 years at the Portage Lake District Library in Houghton, a city in Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula. He was married and had no children, said Shawn Leche, the library director.

Leche described Wallace as a quiet, easygoing man and conscientious worker who loved books, Metropolitan Opera broadcasts and the outdoors, particularly national parks. Wallace asked for vacation time to camp and hike at Yellowstone, where he had visited before, he said.

“The possibility of encountering grizzlies never even came into our conversations,” Leche said. Wallace treasured animals, including his two Australian shepherd dogs, one of which died last year, Leche said.

“It’s hideously perverse to think that someone who loved nature so much would come to such an untimely end at the hand of nature,” Leche said. “To me that just sounds so unfair. It’s shocking.”

Two trails and a section of the Hayden Valley west of Yellowstone’s Grand Loop Road have been closed to hikers. Park officials asked hikers elsewhere in the park to stay on the trails, to hike in groups of three or more and carry bear spray.

Wallace’s death was the fourth caused by grizzlies in the greater Yellowstone area since June 2010.

Yellowstone and surrounding areas are home to at least 600 grizzlies, which are protected from hunting under the Endangered Species Act as a threatened species. Once a rare sight, they have become an almost routine cause of curious tourists lining up at Yellowstone’s roadsides for a glimpse.

In June 2010, a grizzly just released after being trapped and tranquilized for study killed an Illinois man hiking outside Yellowstone’s east gate. A month later, a grizzly killed a Michigan man and injured two others in a nighttime campground rampage northeast of the park.

Despite the killings, Wenk said dangerous encounters remain rare between grizzlies and the more than 3 million people who visit the park each year. The killing two months ago was the first inside the park first since 1986.

“We’ve averaged one encounter that has caused injuries a year for the past 25 years,” Wenk said. “The record speaks for itself.”