BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Two grizzly bears captured close to where a seasonal employee of Yellowstone National Park was killed could be euthanized if DNA tests determine they attacked the man, authorities said Monday.
Lance Crosby, 63, who worked as a nurse in the park’s medical clinics, was hiking alone and without bear spray when he was killed, according to park officials. His body was discovered Friday by a park ranger about a half-mile from the nearest developed trail, hidden by the animals beneath pine needles and dirt.
Crosby, of Billings, Montana, was an experienced hiker and his wounds indicated he tried to fight back, officials said. But authorities advise visitors to carry mace-like bear spray and travel in groups.
Biologists set up a trap that snared an adult female bear at the scene that night. A cub was captured Monday, and biologists hoped to trap another cub after a camera recorded an image of two cubs in the area, Yellowstone spokeswoman Amy Bartlett said.
Park Superintendent Dan Wenk said the adult bear would be killed for public safety if DNA samples show it was involved in Crosby’s death. The cubs first would be offered to a zoo or rehabilitation center, but such placements are difficult and the animals likely would be killed if no permanent home is found, Bartlett said.
Crosby was the sixth person killed by grizzlies since 2010 in the greater Yellowstone area, which has an estimated 750 of the animals and includes the park and surrounding portions of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
Bears involved in fatal attacks are not always killed. That was the case in the 2011 death of a California tourist who ran, screaming, from an adult female grizzly with two cubs. Park officials determined the victim’s actions helped trigger the attack and let the bears remain in the wild.
But when the same female bear was linked by DNA evidence to another hiker’s killing, less than two months later, biologists caught and euthanized the animal, citing concern for public safety.
Wenk said the decision to kill a bear is made “based on the totality of circumstances.”
Encounters between humans and grizzlies have risen in recent decades as the region’s population of the federally protected threatened species has expanded. Relatively few run-ins lead to death or injury, and the probability of being attacked by a bear is only slightly greater than the chance of being struck by lightning, park officials say.
“At this point in time, I have no knowledge that it could have been avoided,” Wenk said of Crosby’s death. “He was in an area that’s frequently used, a popular area that people went to. It’s not like he was bushwhacking through dense forest.”
His body was found off the Elephant Back Loop trail, near an area known as Lake Village. Bruising around puncture wounds on Crosby’s forearms suggested he had tried to defend himself, officials said.
Members of the victim’s family said through a park spokeswoman that they did not plan to release a statement or conduct interviews and asked that all media requests be directed to park officials.
Yellowstone receives more than 3 million visits a year from tourists who journey from around the world to view its geysers, other thermal features and abundant wildlife.
Hikers are advised to stay on trails, travel in groups of three or more, make noise to avoid surprise encounters and carry bear spray.
“It’s an individual’s personal choice to carry bear spray. It’s something we highly recommend because it has been shown to be an effective deterrent in the case of a bear charge,” Bartlett said.
Wildlife researchers from the park and other agencies responsible for grizzly management last year tallied 27 encounters between bears and people on backcountry trails across the Yellowstone region.
In only one case did a bear charge. More often, the animals fled or displayed no change in behavior.