By MATTHEW BROWN, Associated Press
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Yellowstone National Park rangers are trying to capture a grizzly they say killed a hiker from Michigan last week, the second fatal bear attack this summer at the famed park, authorities said Monday.
The body of John Wallace, 59, was discovered Friday along a trail near an area of the park known for its high population of bears. An autopsy concluded he died from injuries 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 animal if they can establish through DNA analysis that it was the one that attacked Wallace, Wenk said.
Wenk said park officials do not believe the bear was involved in the other mauling this summer several miles away from where Wallace's body was discovered. In July, a female bear with cubs killed a hiker from California. Officials did not kill the sow grizzly because they concluded it was defending its cubs.
In the latest case, there were no sign of cubs in the area where Wallace was killed.
Wallace, of Chassell, Mich., was apparently traveling alone and had pitched a tent in a developed campground sometime Wednesday, park officials said.
Authorities said Wallace likely was killed Wednesday or Thursday during a hiked along the Mary Mountain Trail. He 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. The body was discovered in an area of the park that rangers close from March to June because it is considered "high-density" grizzly country.
In the case of Wallace's death, Wenk said there was too little information to know if it was a defensive attack or not. As a result he said the bear would be killed if it can be positively identified as the culprit.
"We're going to err on the safe side of caution since we'll never really know the circumstances in this case," he said.
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 in the greater Yellowstone area since June 2010.
Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said there are "a lot of bears" in the area where Wallace was killed. He said only a portion of the animals have had prior DNA testing.
Yellowstone and surrounding areas are home at least 600 grizzlies. Once rare to behold, grizzlies have become an almost routine cause of curious tourists lining up at Yellowstone's roadsides at the height of summer season.
In June 2010, a grizzly just released after being trapped and tranquilized for study killed an Illinois man hiking outside Yellowstone's east gate. Last July, a grizzly killed a Michigan man and injured two others in a nighttime campground rampage near Cooke City, Mont., 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 July killing 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."