Man vs. Animal: The Yellowstone Bear

If you follow any outdoorsy sites, you’ve likely already heard the news: a hiker was killed by a grizzly and her cub last week in Yellowstone National Park.

When I first read the story, my immediate reaction was to investigate this hiker. So often, humans get involved and do stupid stuff around wildlife {hello! Bear selfies?!} that I can’t help but question the impetus of the attacks. However, it appears that this man– recently identified as Lance Crosby– was a seasoned hiker, knowledgeable in the ways of the backcountry. He was a Montana-based as a long-term seasonal employee of the park. He lived in the park for five years as an employee of Medcor, the company that runs the park’s three urgent-care clinics. Crosby was a regular on the trails and knew what he was doing.

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Grizzlies were all over in Gates of the Arctic. This was a “small” paw print.

In short, it is highly unlikely that Crosby did something irresponsible to provoke the grizzly. And if he didn’t provoke the bear, why did it attack?

Based on the press release from Yellowstone, it appears that the bear {referred to as The Yellowstone Bear} may have been in “predatory” mode. Crosby had defensive wounds on his forearms, and his body was found partially eaten and covered on the side of the trail. This is not typical for bears.

Of course, now there is the drama.

Using tracks at the scene, officials were able to determine that it was both a grizzly and a cub. In the interest of public safety, official sets traps on Friday. If they caught a bear that appeared to be involved in the attack, they would euthanize it.

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Will loading up his bear cannister.

Wildlife biologists caught a grizzly over the weekend and–pending a DNA test using samples from the attack site–will euthanize this bear. If that happens and park officials can’t find a home for its two cubs–one is captured, the other is in the wild–they will euthanize them too.

Guys, this is so messy!

I can’t even imagine the pain that Crosby’s family is dealing with. I spend a ton of time in the backcountry and there is always that fine line between man and wildlife. Grizzlies don’t care whether you’re a day hiker passing through at a park or whether you’ve crossed the line into their territory; they are animals. We can’t explain their behavior as well as we would like, but is it fair to kill both the bear and the cubs for being…well…animals?

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Do you see those claws?!

Conversely, I 100% understand where park officials are coming from. Yellowstone National Park is one of the most popular parks in the country and public safety has to be at the forefront of their thoughts. And to their credit, they are being enormously fair about the situation. If they had witnesses to prove that The Yellowstone Bear attacked in order to protect her cubs, the situation could be different. But in light of the current evidence, it may just be a grizzly-gone-wild situation. Why wouldn’t Yellowstone want to protect its 3.5 million annual visitors?

Note: Every time something like this happens, people jump to conclusions in regards to bear attacks. It’s worth noting that bear attacks are incredibly rare. The most recent fatality caused by a bear attack was in 2011. Prior to that, there hadn’t been bear-attack fatality in 25 years. 1916 was the first year someone recorded a fatality in the park, and there have only been eight since then. Source for information can be found here.

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Sound off! What are your thoughts on The Yellowstone Bear? Should it be euthanized? Or sent to a zoo? Do parks need to work on better bear-awareness programs?

7 Comments

  • Reply Lynn (Tahoe Fabulous) at

    Situations like this are so hard! Generally, I think better education for humans is what is most needed. But in this particular instance, it seems like this guy really knew what he was doing, but was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    I do think so many people need to understand human/wildlife interactions better. People in my neighborhood, both residents and visitors, leave out unsecured trash cans all the time. Then, bears get in them (especially during drought years when there is less food), get acclimated to humans, become “nuisance bears”, and have to be euthanized. Just a few weeks ago, a guy who lives near my office shot a bear in what he’s claiming is “self defense”, but the investigators are saying that he most likely shot the bear while it was up in a tree and it was the fall to the ground that killed it. Sometimes it just seems like there aren’t any solutions! Sorry about my slightly off tangent rant there.

  • Reply Joan at

    As one who used to travel through Yellowstone often on my way to and from Montana on a regular basis; I was amazed and appalled at the behavior of tourists when it came to bears and the buffalo herd. I remember traveling through one of the grassy valleys with a wide creek running through it and always watching for wildlife…..well, I found it….in two forms. One, on the far side of the creek there was a grizzly sow and her cubs at a fresh kill of an elk. The second form of wildlife was the traffic jam of cars stopping, slowing, watching…..well that wasn’t a problem because the bears were a fair distance from the road. The problem was the people who were out of their cars and had crossed the creek and were less than 100 feet from the bears. There they were, cameras in hand, continuing to move toward the bears and their dinner.
    It left me speechless that people could be so…..I don’t even have a word for it. In this case, fortunately, Park Rangers came on the scene to
    disperse the crowd. However, it is noteworthy to say, that in all my years of travel in that area that was the only time I even sighted a bear.
    The man you mention here, though so very knowledgeable and experienced may have accidentally gotten between the sow and the babies somehow. No matter how this plays out it is a sad and tragic story for everyone; the family, the Park Rangers, the other outdoorsmen and women, tourists, and of course, the bears.
    There seems to be no easy answer here, though I find myself wishing they could relocate the bear family into a much more remote region far, far from this area. But that case tip the balance of nature, too. However, public outcry might overshadow this type of decision depending on which faction made the most noise.
    Additionally, your statistics of bear attacks is noteworthy…..in other words….few and far between. But people are becoming more and more plentiful in traveling through these areas. And with that many are becoming less cautious, especially if they have a camera/phone in hand.
    All in all, there are no easy answers.

  • Reply Alyssa Lindsey at

    So maybe it’s the wine but I’m confused about why the bear gets the death penalty. Is the thinking that since the attack is atypical for bears this particular bear puts other people at risk? I can just imagine how the news has sensationalized this (although I surprisingly hadn’t heard of it). Not to make things all about me but this is why it drives me nuts when people insist that their dog is completely safe and would “never” attack me or hurt someone. Animals are animals and while they can follow trends we can’t completely communicate with them and we can’t truly predict their behavior.

  • Reply Chris C. at

    A couple things. First, a news report I read said the hiker was hiking off-trail and alone. Both of those are pretty big no-nos in grizzly country. Not that this attack was necessarily his fault, but hiking alone and off of established trails does substantially increase the risk of an unexpected bear encounter. If you’re off-trail, the bear isn’t necessarily expecting people and visibility tends to be drastically decreased. And if you’re alone, you’re simply not making as much noise as you would if you were hiking with other people. I have hiked alone plenty of times, and I have hiked off-trail in grizzly country (hello, Alaska!), so I’m not saying he shouldn’t have been doing it, just that if you make that choice, you are definitely taking a risk.

    As for putting the bear down, I don’t think they have any choice. Bears that attack humans or break into human dwellings to get food get conditioned to do more of these things. To be a little gross, if a bear realizes that the human it killed was good eating, why would it NOT do that again. Humans are, really, relatively easy targets and can provide a lot of food. It’s also a real problem when a bear is acting in a strange way — it could be ill or it could simply be unpredictably dangerous. Unprovoked attacks on humans = strange for a bear. Maybe this bear was protecting its young, but without knowing that for sure, I think the rangers have to assume it was an unprovoked attack. The last time this happened in Yellowstone, there were two killings in a few month period, both by the same bear. They let the bear go the first time, because they thought she’d been protecting her young, and then she killed a second human.

    That being said, I think it’s really sad when a bear does have to be put down. I think the key here is that we, as users of the wilderness, have a responsibility to behave in ways that minimize the chance of negative bear encounters. Make lots of noise when hiking in grizzly country (especially if you are off-trail or alone), bring and know how to use bear spray, don’t get between a mama and her babies, if you do spot a bear give it wide berth, etc. If we do that, there will be fewer of these incidents, and bears won’t HAVE to be euthanized.

    • Reply heather at

      You know, someone else said that to me too. The news reports I read said he was on trail but the bear dragged him off-trail. Interesting how different reports are saying different things! That aside, I think your takeaway points are spot on: be aware and be preventative.

  • Reply Cathryn at

    This is an interesting new bear story from Yosemite – the weirdest. The guy keeps bags of trash near his house, watches the bear outside for a ‘few minutes’ and the bear attacks from behind?? So much more to this than in the report…but this bear will probably have to be killed as well. Sigh.

    http://www.sfgate.com/news/science/article/California-man-fights-off-black-bear-drives-to-6442754.php

  • Reply carole at

    I have just come across your article and I am very involved with trying to save the cubs from going to the Toledo Zoo which has a bad reputation concerning bears nor do they have the staff. Please keep in mind although we all feel sorry for the victim and his family Mr. Crosby was not just a one day hiker in the Yellowstone Park, he was a part time worker with experience. HE went off trail, alone, had no protection, no bear spray no gun. The night it happen it rained heavily in the Park the evidence is tainted, not to say the DNA is incorrect that is correct. However, there are many people who state the Bear (Blaze) and her cubs could had found the victim already dead and fed. No one knows for sure… So as humans we kill. We kill the mother of two 7 month old cubs who will be forced to grow up in jail. Blaze was 20 years old 50% survival rate her for her cubs. She was around humans taking pictures of her and NEVER NEVER EVER shown any signs of aggression. None of this was taken into consideration the NPS at Yellowstone, Superintendent ordered her killing within 6 days of capture. They did not try to contact any Bear sanctuaries and the AZA has outdated records. Bear sanctuaries called the Park, prior to them killing Blaze. They wanted to save her and her cubs. No response, Nothing… just shoot her in the head that is considered euthanized. There are people out there outraged by this please see the hashtag #yellowstonebear on Facebook and twitter for more details. Any support is welcomed. Thank you

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