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Woman Is Found Dead Near Bear Tracks Outside Yellowstone, Officials Say

A woman was found dead after “an apparent bear encounter” on a trail near West Yellowstone, Mont., officials said in a statement on Sunday, noting that grizzly bear tracks had been found at the scene.

The body of the woman, whose name and age were not released, was found on Saturday on the Buttermilk Trail west of West Yellowstone, a town of about 1,200 residents that is roughly one mile from Yellowstone National Park.

Officials at the Custer Gallatin National Forest, which is part of the Yellowstone ecosystem, issued an emergency closure for parts west of West Yellowstone to address what it described in a statement as “human safety concerns” related to bear activity.

The circumstances of the woman’s death were unclear. The Custer Gallatin National Forest and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday night.

A map showing the emergency closure in place for an area about 8 miles west of West Yellowstone.Credit…Custer Gallatin National Forest

On Saturday morning, the Custer Gallatin National Forest warned on Facebook that the Buttermilk Trail and surrounding areas were closed because of bear activity.

Grizzly bears, which are a federally protected subspecies of brown bears in all lower 48 states under the Endangered Species Act, roam throughout Montana. Their populations have expanded across the state in recent years and, in some cases, grizzlies have been spotted in places where they had not been seen for more than a century, including in the Pryor Mountains, where the species had likely not been seen since the late 1800s, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Park said in a statement.

That expansion “enhances the long-term prospects for population sustainability” for the bears, but it also “poses new challenges” for Montanans because the animals can damage property or injure people, the department said.

Officials have warned visitors to “be bear aware,” prompting concern among some residents, who have been reporting more sightings.

Grizzlies are larger than black bears, with adults standing more than eight feet when they are reared up on their hind legs. The average weight of a grizzly bear is 400 to 500 pounds for males and 250 to 350 for females. And the bears can run up to 35 miles per hour.

Last month, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks posted an undated photo of a grizzly bear standing almost as tall as a shed, its long and curved claws slashing bits of wood.

This month, the department said a grizzly bear had been captured and euthanized after it had “several conflicts with people” along a reservoir in Flathead County, about 380 miles northwest of West Yellowstone. The male grizzly bear was “food conditioned and habituated” to people, the department said, which typically means that the bears had sought or obtained food from people, destroyed property or displayed aggressive behavior toward people.

The chances of being attacked by a grizzly bear, however, are extremely rare. Since Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872, only eight people have been killed by bears in the park, most recently in 2015, according to the National Park Service. Since 1979, 44 people have been injured by grizzly bears in the park, which has seen more than 118 million visitors during that time.

“More people in the park have died from drowning (125 incidents) and burns (after falling into hot springs, 23 incidents) than have been killed by bears,” the service said.

Still, the danger is real and officials have pointed Montanans to several tips: Carry and know how to use bear spray; travel in groups when possible and plan to be out in the daylight hours; avoid carcass sites and concentrations of ravens and other scavengers.

Officials also advise residents to watch for signs of bears, like torn-up logs and turned over rocks, partly consumed animal carcasses and bear scat. Park or trail visitors should also make noise to alert bears to their presence, particularly when they go near streams or walk in thick forest.

The final tip is simple: “Don’t approach a bear.”

A town-hall meeting to discuss bears is scheduled for Monday evening in Big Timber, a city of about 1,600 residents more than 90 miles north of Yellowstone.

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