Grizzly Bear Kills Bicyclist Camping in Western Montana

11 months ago
AMERICA NEWS NOW

HELENA Mont.—A grizzly bear attacked and killed a bicyclist who was camping in a small western Montana town early Tuesday, triggering an intensive search for the bruin by wildlife officials and law enforcement officers who planned to kill the animal, authorities said.

The pre-dawn attack happened in Ovando, a town of fewer than 100 people about 60 miles northwest of Helena, said Greg Lemon, a spokesperson with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.

The bear had previously wandered into the area where the victim was camping and left but later returned, Powell County Sheriff Gavin Roselles said.

“There was an earlier contact with the bear prior to the event,” Roselles said. “The bear basically came back into the campsite. It wandered into a campsite a couple different times.”

A team of law enforcement and wildlife specialists was brought in to track down and kill the bear, officials said. A crew aboard a helicopter was assisting as searchers looked for a “daybed” where the animal might be sleeping to get out of the heat, Lemon said, adding that the bear was believed to have left Ovando after the mauling.

Wildlife workers set five traps in and around Ovando in hopes of capturing the bear, Lemon said.

An initial report said the victim had been riding a bicycle at the time of the attack. That is not the case, Roselles said.

Lemon said his understanding is that the victim was part of a group on a bike trip.

The victim’s identity was not immediately released and further circumstances surrounding the attack were under investigation.

“Our first concern is the community’s well-being. The next step is to find the bear,” Lemon said.

Officials did not say exactly where the attack occurred, but Roselles said there were other people camping in the vicinity of the attack.

A video camera from an Ovando business caught footage of a grizzly bear Monday night, wildlife officials said. A bear also raided a chicken coop prior to the attack at the campsite.

Ovando saloon owner Tiffanie Zavarelli said it was the first fatal bear mauling that she knew of in the community, located along the Blackfoot River beneath a mountain range that rises into the remote Bob Marshall Wilderness, a 1,500-square mile expanse of public forests. Residents of the area are accustomed to living in proximity to bears and know the risks, but the attack left them rattled, said Zavarelli, whose family owns Trixi’s Antler Saloon, named after a well-known trick horseback rider and roper.

“Everybody’s pretty shaken up right now. The population here is 75—everybody knows everybody,” Zararelli said, “The people from Montana, we know how to be ‘bear aware.’ But anything can happen.”

Bicyclists gathered at Trixi’s on Tuesday afternoon were considering plans for their next stop.

“I think we’ll be OK going north,” Jim Drake of Las Cruces, New Mexico, told the Missoulian newspaper. Drake was just four or five days short of completing his seven-week trip.

“We carry bear spray and keep our food in a bear-proof bag. Bears are always a threat, but as long as we take precautions, we’re not too worried. I think we’re more likely to be hit by a car than attacked by a bear,” he said.

Blackfoot Inn and general store owner Leigh Ann Valiton said the people of Ovando were “absolutely devastated” by the fatal attack.

Grizzly bears have run into increasing conflict with humans in the Northern Rockies over the past decade as the federally protected animals expanded into new areas and the number of people living and recreating in the region grew. That has spurred calls from elected officials in Montana and neighboring Wyoming and Idaho to lift protections so the animals could be hunted.

In April, a backcountry guide was killed by a grizzly bear while fishing along the Yellowstone National Park border in southwestern Montana. The 420-pound bear in that attack was shot and killed when it charged wildlife officials as they approached the site of the mauling.

Ovando is on the southern edge of a huge expanse of wilderness that stretches to the border of Canada and is home to an estimated 1,000 bears—the large...

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