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A Montana hiker died near Yellowstone National Park last week in what authorities believe was a rare fatal grizzly attack.
Craig Clouatre went missing on the morning of March 23 after going on a dayhike with a friend in the Six Mile Creek area of the Absaroka Mountains. According to Park County Sheriff Brad Bichler, the pair split up and when the friend returned to their vehicle and saw that Clouatre hadn’t returned yet, he contacted authorities to report Clouatre missing.
Following a two-day search with ground teams combing the thick forests and helicopters scanning from above with thermal imaging cameras, authorities located Clouatre’s remains. Bichler said that tracks at the scene and other physical evidence suggested a grizzly was responsible.
Clouatre, 40, was a dedicated ice climber and hiker who was married with four children. Speaking to the Associated Press, his father David Clouatre said that he had moved to Montana from Massachusetts more than 20 years ago and met his wife, Jamie, there.
“He was a joy to have as a son all the way around,” David Clouatre told the wire service. “He was a good man, a good, hardworking family man.”
Bichler said that evidence suggested Clouatre had a chance encounter with the bear rather than succumbing to a predatory attack, and that authorities had no plans to search for the animal. In a Facebook post on Sunday, Bichler wrote that he had visited with Clouatre’s wife, and that she had told him “she and the family [understood] that Craig loved to be in wild places and was well aware of the risks involved with that.”
Wildlife officials estimate there are about 727 grizzlies living in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, up from a low of just 136 in 1975. Management of the animals has been a flashpoint between conservationists, hunters, and their respective allies in government. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the area’s grizzlies recovered and removed their protections under the Endangered Species Act in 2017, but a flurry of lawsuits and a subsequent court order forced it to relist the animals. As of 2022, grizzlies throughout the lower 48 states still enjoy protections under the act.
Despite the increase in grizzly populations, fatal attacks are rare. While Yellowstone National Park drew 4.86 million visitors in 2021, just eight people have died in confirmed grizzly attacks since 2010. The last, wilderness guide Charles Mock, passed away during a fly fishing excursion after being mauled by a 400-odd-pound male bear last April.