Fatal July grizzly bear attack in Yellowstone maybe aggravated by running from bear, yelling and screaming

A textbook example of how do it wrong?

A couple hiking to Wapiti Lake in Yellowstone Park surprised a grizzly bear and soon the man was dead. The woman had minor injuries. Bear experts have issued a report on the incident. They suggest that because the couple fled from the surprised bear, and screaming and yelling probably led to the bear giving them sustained pursuit.

While the report doesn’t say it so baldly, from the facts it seems the couple did everything wrong in an obviously occupied grizzly bear area. They went hiking down the trail without pepper spray, passing a sign suggesting that pepper spray be carried. More significantly, a second sign warned that a grizzly bear was frequenting the area. Then they learned from a single hiker that he head seen a grizzly bear, and they watched that bear and her cubs through binoculars and took photos.

Later the couple apparently walked right past, or very near, the sow and her cubs.  The man told her to run as the bear approached.  That might have been the fatal mistake that resulted in his death along with yelling and screaming (hard not to do when you are being attacked!!). The woman was probably saved when she dropped face down and didn’t fight back. The bear investigated her backpack and left.

This was the second of what have been three fatal grizzly encounters this summer. A lone hiker was killed in the grizzly thick Hayden Valley. The fact are unknown. The attack on the couple came inside the Park too. The third came the other day on the Idaho/Montana border near Canada when black bear hunters shot and wounded a large male grizzly. Then they pursued the wounded bear into the brush.

Here is the full story from the Jackson Hole News and Guide. Report: Grizzly reacted to yells. By Cory Hatch.

Earlier I predicted a narrative would emerge about there being too many grizzly bears nowadays. While the facts are plain that all three attacks had nothing to do with too many bears (the two Yellowstone attacks were in places known to be heavy with bears since discovered by Europeans.). I see the narrative being deployed. Read this by Jim Robbins who lives in Montana and writes for the New York Times. A Summer of Humans vs. Grizzlies.  In it Chris Servheen  says “no one is sure exactly why there have been so many fatalities this year. ‘There are a lot more bears today than there were 30 years ago,’ Mr. Servheen, said, ‘and there are a lot more visitors. So there is a higher encounter frequency.’ ”

No! The Yellowstone Park population is stable. The lethal encounter near the Canadian border is in a grizzly population (Cabinet-Yaak) that is slowly declining. The one where Jeremy Hill shot one of three grizzlies in his yard, was in the Selkirk population which is stable.

The trouble is that political narratives are made up to advance political interests. The truth is told only inasmuch as it supports the predetermined story.



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  1. Mike Avatar

    I agree Ralph. And having guys like Mark Gamblin here only serves to further that narrative.

  2. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    I’m not saying at all that there are “too many” or that the densities in those particular locations where the conflicts occurred are necessarily higher than in decades past, but I don’t think Servheen threw out an incorrect “narrative” in his comment that was general, covering a multi-decadal scale — at least as far GYE and northern Rockies grizzly numbers compared with the 1970s-early 1980s (don’t know about visitor numbers). I do think it would be incorrect to draw a trend comparing this particular year with other recent years and attribute it to an increase in either bears or people, which is what the news story seemed to be aiming at using his broader observation.

  3. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    Two years ago the Canyon Pack killed a Bison south of Otter Creek. The dead Bison attracted five Grizzlies that chased off the wolves and fed on the carcass until all that was left was the hide, bones and skull.
    I was watching when the rangers removed the tape and signs that restricted access to the area. A California couple immediately went out to the carcass and took turns holding up the Bison skull and posing for photos with it.
    When they came back by me,I told them I had aimed my camera at them from a safe distance while they were playing with the Bison skull,just in case a bear was still around. I told them I didn’t have any photos of a Grizzly ripping off someone’s leg and I thought I had a pretty good chance of getting that kind of photo based on what they had just done.
    Walking up to old kills recently fed on by Grizzlies is sort of like running and screaming when a Grizzly approaches. You can end up very dead.

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I went to a bar for lunch and talked about this with folks. The bartender is fishing guide in the summer and does a lot of remote area hiking and climbing on the Idaho/Montana border area.

    He suggested something that no one has mentioned — this year has very tall grass and forbs along the Idaho/Utah, Idaho/Wyoming, Idaho/Montana border. Some places where they grow to your waist are over your head late this summer. Yellowstone Park is lush.

    This year the bears are harder to see compared to the past. That might be the most of the explanation right there.

  5. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    That certainly seems logical. From radio and newspaper reports it seems like on a long-term average over decades about 1 Juneau deer hunter is mauled about every 3 years, which is not insignificant with only about 2,000 of us and probably 40% to possibly half not hunting where there are commonly brown bears. Most injuries occur on Admiralty because that’s the most hunted brown bear island by Juneau folks and I think it’s the heavy foliage combined with a high bear density (estimated at roughly 1/sq. mile overall) as they really don’t seem inordinately aggressive there. People are creeping around all day and suddenly find themselves in the danger zone before they know it. Probably 2/3rds of those injured do not get off a shot and in most cases the injuries aren’t too bad, a few bites and the bear leaves — an occasional detached scalp. The only Juneau deer hunter fatality I can remember turned out to be a very rare predatory attack where a bear came to his deer call and killed and dragged him a considerable distance and ate him. Occasionally, one follows a drag trail and catches up with the hunter —- dragging a deer through the woods is sort of like chumming and trolling with bait at the same time. One guy dropped the deer and backed away hoping the bear would be satisfied, but it came right over it and mauled him. He then crawled some distance off and called on his VHF radio and was heard widely from air and sea, but he was still to close and the bear left the deer to work him over some more — all injuries that he recovered from OK. I have a couple of friends who have been tracked down while dragging deer — in both cases caught in virtual pitch dark not far inside the beach fringe. One of them, who could barely make out the bear while dragging two deer with his kids in the front, shot it multiple times from feet away. The other, my old boss who’s so tight he’ll go to incredible extremes to save a scrap of venison, somehow dropped his rifle when jumping away from the bear into a ravine but then managed to generate enough racket yelling, etc. to scare it off and (without a flashlight) crawled back up and ended up lighting a match to locate both deer and rifle — then dragged the deer out to a high tide island where he stood guarding it for 14 cold, dark November hours rather than take a chance on the bear returning for it . . . . . all at the expense of a comfortable night’s sleep in his tent 1/2 mile away.

  6. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Thank you, Peter.

    Looking at the photos, I realize I have been there, quite late in the afternoon. It was a worrisome place. I was alone with plenty of old bear sign around.

    I did have my pepper spray.

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    There are a lot of areas of steaming, bubbling “mud pots” interspersed with stands of trees and meadows.

    The creepy feeling was underscored by the silence broken every 30 seconds or so by a “ker plop” as a bubble broke in the thick steaming mud.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan