Woman found dead in apparent bear encounter outside Yellowstone National Park

a bear
A woman was found dead on the Buttermilk Trail about eight miles outside of West Yellowstone, Mont., on Saturday. (NPS/Jim Peaco)

Authorities are investigating the death of a woman who was found dead Saturday on a hiking trail outside Yellowstone National Park in an apparent bear encounter.

The woman’s body was found on the Buttermilk Trail, located about eight miles west of the gateway community of West Yellowstone, Mont., which borders Yellowstone National Park as well as the Custer Gallatin National Forest. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) said Sunday that grizzly bear tracks were found at the scene and that the investigation is ongoing.

The U.S. Forest Service issued an order Sunday closing the area until Aug. 25, for human and bear safety.

The grizzly bear is a protected species under the Endangered Species Act and can be found throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which encompasses parts of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming as well as Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

The National Park Service says the odds of being attacked by a grizzly bear within the park are about 1-in-2.7 million. But those figures are park-specific.

A West Yellowstone local, 40-year-old Charles Mock, was mauled by a grizzly while fishing along the Madison River north of the town in 2021 and ultimately died from his injuries. According to an MWFP news release, that bear was shot and killed when it charged seven officials and bear specialists who were trying to chase it out of the area.

Conservation efforts have brought the species back from 136 in 1975 to an estimated 1,063 as of 2021. With the bear population bouncing back, MFWP and the Forest Service advise people to take proper precautions before venturing out.

This includes carrying bear spray (and knowing how to use it) and traveling in groups. As with other wild animals, making noise while traveling along the trail will alert the bears to your presence, giving them ample time to scamper off instead of being startled.

If you come across a bear in the wild, don’t approach it, and certainly don’t feed it; that’s illegal. Bears that are fed by people become food-conditioned, according to MFWP, which becomes a safety risk for humans as well as the bears.

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