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Regional Montana sheriff says hiker killed, grizzly bear suspected

Regional Montana sheriff says hiker killed, grizzly bear suspected

 Associated Press, Matthew Brown

Published by KTVB7

BILLINGS, Mont. — Authorities in Montana have not tried to track down a grizzly bear suspected in the fatal mauling of a hiker last week because it did not appear to be a predatory attack, state and local officials said Monday.

Craig Clouatre, 40, was found dead Friday, two days after he failed to return from an off-trail hike in densely forested mountains north of Yellowstone National Park. He was from the small city of Livingston, about 30 miles from the mauling site.

Tracks left at the scene and the nature of the attack suggest that a grizzly killed him, Park County Sheriff Brad Bichler said. But Bichler said there was no indication the bear sought out Clouatre, meaning it could have been simply an unlucky encounter.

"This doesn't appear to be an attack where the bear sought out the person," Bichler said. "It wasn't like the bear came down into a campground and nabbed someone.”

Fatal grizzly bear attacks on people are rare. Predatory attacks — such as a 2010 attack near Cooke City in which a man was killed inside his tent at a campground — are even less common.

Wildlife officials are trying to confirm whether a grizzly was responsible for Clouatre's death through testing of animal hairs found at the site, said Morgan Jacobsen with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Jacobsen said the attack appeared to have been a chance encounter and agreed with Bichler that it was not a predatory attack.

Clouatre, who was married with four children and originally from Massachusetts, was experienced in the backcountry, according to his friends and family. At the time of his death, he was in a remote area with lots of timber and ravines, searching for antlers shed by elk and other big game animals, Bichler said.

Clouatre’s father told The Associated Press that the victim grew up in Massachusetts and moved more than two decades ago to Montana, where Clouatre met his future wife, Jamie, and decided to make a home.

“He was a joy to have as a son all the way around,” David Clouatre said. “He was a good man, a good, hardworking family man.”

The mountains in the area where Craig Clouatre died rise steeply above the Yellowstone River as it passes through the Paradise Valley. Dense forests at higher elevations are home to bears and other wildlife, although dangerous encounters with people are relatively rare.

Clouatre frequented those mountains and others around the park, hiking in summer and ice climbing in winter when he wasn't home with his family, said Anne Tanner, a friend of the victim.

Tanner said she had known Clouatre for about a decade because he worked for commercial food companies and delivered to their restaurant, the Emigrant Outpost. The restaurant held a benefit for the Clouatre family after their house burned down two years ago. Tanner said they had only recently recovered from the fire.

“He was finally just getting their house together," she said. “It just makes me angry that something like this could happen to such a good person...Of all the men I know, I can't believe he would die in the wilderness. He was so strong and he was so smart."

It was unknown if Clouatre was carrying bear spray, which are pressurized canisters of pepper-like irritant that can deter charging bears.

Grizzlies in and around Yellowstone National Park have killed at least eight people since 2010. The region spanning portions of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho has more than 700 bears.

Authorities were working Friday to return Clouatre’s body to his family, Bichler said in a social media post.

Since 2010, grizzlies in the Yellowstone region have killed at least eight people.

Among them was a backcountry guide killed by a bear last year along Yellowstone's western border. Guide Charles “Carl” Mock was killed in April after being mauled by a 400-plus pound male grizzly while fishing alone at a favorite spot on Montana’s Madison River, where it spills out of the park.

Grizzlies are protected under federal law outside Alaska. Elected officials in the Yellowstone region are pushing to lift protections and allow grizzly hunting.

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