MISSOULA – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to do a better job of informing backcountry users how to avoid dangerous encounters with grizzly bears, an official with the agency says.
“We are providing education, but it’s not being received,” said Chris Servheen, coordinator for grizzly recovery with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The problem with communication is the illusion it’s actually happening. My candid opinion is we have not been very successful at this at all.”
The Missoulian reports that a preliminary review of 2011 bear encounters listed 83 incidents that resulted in two deaths, both in Yellowstone National Park. About 75 percent of the incidents took place in the Yellowstone National Park area and the rest in northwestern Montana. Four out of five times, no one was hurt.
About 38 percent of the incidents involved hunters, 35 percent hikers, and the rest a mix of anglers, campers and ranch-hands. Servheen said part of the problem is that only 29 percent of the people carried pepper spray.
Officials said a female bear with cubs killed 57-year-old Brian Matayoshi of California on July 6. Officials decided not to kill the bear because it was behaving normally.
The same bear was linked through DNA with the death of 59-year-old John Wallace of Michigan in late August. The bear was killed Oct. 1 and her two cubs placed in the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center at West Yellowstone.
In the July attack, investigators said the attack was possibly triggered by the victim and his wife screaming and yelling as they ran from a grizzly mother with cubs.
The August attack wasn’t witnessed by anyone, and officials said they might never know definitively whether the same bear killed both hikers. Evidence showed multiple bears, including the sow, were near Wallace’s body.
The decision to euthanize the 250-pound female bear was meant to protect park visitors and staff, officials said.
Matayoshi and his wife weren’t carrying bear spray.
“Their behavior during the chase contributed to the behavior of the bear and resulted in the death of Mr. Matayoshi,” Servheen said.
Wallace was hiking alone and also wasn’t carrying bear spray.
Officials recommend hikers carry bear spray, not run from grizzlies, and not hike alone.