A woman is dead after an “apparent grizzly bear encounter” near Yellowstone National Park, leading park officials to close the surrounding area to other hikers, according to a statement from the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Though the department’s statement said the death appeared to have followed the woman’s interaction with the bear, it did not confirm her cause of death.
Park officials noted that grizzly bear tracks were found at the scene, but the investigation into the woman’s death is ongoing.
The woman was found Saturday morning on the Buttermilk Trail near West Yellowstone, a Montana town nestled in the Custer Gallatin National Forest just west of Yellowstone National Park. Park officials have issued an emergency closure of the Buttermilk area “for human safety.”
The attack comes amid a rise in Montana’s grizzly bear population and an increase in sightings in recent years.
The department put out a news release last week warning visitors that staff had confirmed grizzly bear sightings throughout the state, “particularly in areas between the Northern Continental Divide and the Great Yellowstone ecosystems.”
They implored those camping and visiting parks to carry bear spray, store their food while outside and tend to their garbage.
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After the discovery of the deceased woman on Saturday, officials are reminding parkgoers to travel in groups and not to approach bears.
Visitors can look out for signs of bears such as scat, diggings, torn-up logs and turned-over rocks, and partly consumed animal carcasses. Park officials also advise making noise while hiking to alert bears to one’s presence, especially near streams or in thick patches of forest where hearing and visibility are limited.
Just last week, Yellowstone National Park made headlines after a woman was gored by a bison while walking through a field near Lake Yellowstone. She was airlifted to a hospital with serious injuries, including 7 spine fractures and bilateral collapsed lungs.
A month prior, park officials had to remind visitors yet again to keep their distance from wildlife after someone grabbed an elk calf, put it in their car and drove it to a nearby police station. The calf ran off into the forest after it was transported and its condition is unknown. Park officials warn that wildlife can sometimes reject their young if they come in contact with people.
— With files from The Associated Press