The Montana Standard; Tuesday, August 27, 2002.
Gallatin National Forest officials said they were worried hungry
bears are coming out of the mountains and immediately closed the area
to hiking and tent camping.
The victim, who was not identified, and three other members
of Buffalo Field Campaign surprised a grizzly sow and two cubs Sunday
afternoon. One hiker said the person in the lead dropped to the ground but another ran and the bear attacked him. Clarke Ball, who was behind the other hikers, said he heard but couldn't see what happened because of the thick forest, but it was only moments before he found his companion bleeding from his face and legs. "He got his face mangled,'' said Ball.
The hikers are part of a group of activists who annually
monitor and occasionally disrupt Montana's efforts to keep bison from
entering the state from nearby Yellowstone National Park. The activists maintain state livestock and wildlife officials needlessly kill some of the trespassing bison as part of a controversial disease-control program.
The hikers said the attack occurred too quickly to determine
exactly what happened, said Claude Coffin, acting district ranger
for the Hebgen Lake Ranger District.
"They said it happened with lightning speed,'' said Coffin.
`` Before they knew it, it was over with.'' The other three were not
injured. Ball said the attack was not the bear's fault.
"That area was known to be frequent ed by bears, and we were
not following protocol,'' he said, because the group was walking too
quietly. The victim was airlifted to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical
Center in Idaho Falls, where a hospital spokeswoman said he was in
fair condition Monday night. Biologists have been worried attacks
would rise as a key food source for bears -- nuts from whitebark
pines -- dries up. They say a poor nut harvest forces the bears to
seek food at lower elevations.
`` This is a wake-up call,'' Coffin said. `` Starting about now or
the next week or so, bears are going to be actively feeding, trying
to put pounds on.''