Officials Hunt Grizzly that Killed Camper in Montana Town

Fatal attack was only third in last 20 years for the region; bear will be killed if found

By Associated Press
Ovando is a common stopover for long distance bicyclists. Photo by Micah Drew

HELENA — Wildlife officials resumed searching by ground and from the air Wednesday for a grizzly bear that killed a woman who was camping in a western Montana town.

A helicopter was flying over the area around the small town of Ovando in pursuit of the bear, which will be killed if found, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesperson Greg Lemon said. Large traps made out of culverts were set around the area in hopes of capturing the bruin.

Ovando, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) northwest of Helena, is a community of fewer than 100 people at the edge of the sprawling Bob Marshall wilderness.

Long distance bicyclists such as the victim often spend the night in the town. Powell County Sheriff Gavin Roselles said the bear wandered into the victim’s camping area a couple of times before Tuesday’s fatal mauling.

Someone at the scene used bear spray and other campers called 911, Roselles said.

Roselles closed down any camping in Ovando as the search for the bear continued, following creeks leading away from the town.

The victim’s identity was expected to be released Wednesday, Powell County Coroner Heather Gregory said. The victim was a woman, Roselles said.

Further circumstances surrounding the attack were under investigation. Officials said their priority was to find and kill the bear to prevent another dangerous encounter.

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.

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.

North of Ovando lies an expanse of forests and mountains including Glacier National Park that stretches to Canada and is home to an estimated 1,000 grizzlies. It’s the largest concentration of the bruins in the contiguous U.S.

Fatal attacks are rare in the region. There have been three in the last 20 years, including Tuesday’s mauling, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Over that same period, there were eight fatal maulings of people by grizzlies from a separate population of about 700 bears in and around Yellowstone National Park. In April, a backcountry guide was killed by a grizzly bear while fishing along the park’s border in southwestern Montana.

Bears that attack people are not always killed if the mauling resulted from a surprise encounter or the bear was defending its young. But the bear involved in Tuesday’s death is considered a public safety threat due to the circumstances of the attack, Lemon said.