Mountain biker mauled to death in Montana, but should grizzlies lose protected status?

A mountain biker has been killed by a grizzly bear, after he surprised the animal whilst riding on trails just outside Glacier National Park in Montana. The tragic indecent took place on Wednesday, when 38-year-old Brad Treat was out cycling with a friend in the Halfmoon Lakes area of the Flathead National Forest.

Treat was knocked from his bike and his riding companion then took off to try and get help. When authorities returned to the scene, they found the body of the US Forest Service worker but no sign of the bear, which early reports suggest was a sow with cubs. Female bears are notorious protective of their young, and can be extremely aggressive if surprised.

Wildlife officials and Treat’s Forest Service law-enforcement colleagues are currently searching for the grizzly, and they have urged hikers and bikers to stay off the West Glacier area trails until the animal has been found. How exactly they are going to identify the culprit is unclear, as is the bear’s fate if it is apprehended.

Listed as a threatened species in the Lower 48 states of the US since the 1970s, grizzly numbers have been steadily climbing since they were afforded protection under the Endangered Species Act. There are now an estimated 1,000 grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which includes the Bob Marshall Wilderness south of the park. A further 700 or more grizzlies live in and around Yellowstone National Park, 360 miles south of Glacier.

With human populations also growing exponentially, the number of encounters between people and bears has inevitably risen during the last four decades, with grim results for members of both species, and there has been talk recently about removing grizzlies’ protected status.

This latest incident is being reported as the 11th bear-related death in Glacier since the park was created in 1910, although the fatal encounter actually took place several miles outside the park’s official boundary. The previous death happened in 1998, when three bears killed and partially ate a park vendor employee while he was hiking.

Every death is a tragedy, of course, but the toll on the other side is much higher. According to Caroline Byrd, executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, 61 grizzly bears died as a run-ins with humans in 2015 alone, typically during ‘surprise’ encounters with hunters or as a result of incidents that arose when wild bears got into human food and garbage that wasn’t stored securely, or killed livestock.

Byrd strongly opposes the the re-legalisation of grizzly hunting, arguing that: ‘it will turn a remarkable 40-year recovery process and $40 million investment into a failure’.