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Grizzly blamed for Yellowstone hiker death

August 29, 2011 | 12:59 pm

Yellowstone National Park rangers are trying to capture a grizzly that 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 Supt. 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. He 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 Torrance. Officials did not kill the sow grizzly because they concluded it was defending its cubs.

In the latest case, there were no signs 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 hike along the Mary Mountain Trail. Rangers also found grizzly tracks and 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.

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.


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-- Associated Press

Photo: A grizzly crosses a highway near Yellowstone National Park. Credit: David Grubbs / Billings Gazette