Lessons Learned from Death by Grizzly Bear


Lance Crosby, 63, from Billings, Montana, was killed by a grizzly bear on Elephant Back Mountain in Yellowstone National Park on August 6, 2015. Crosby was a seasonal employee at the Lake Medical Clinic at Lake Village in the park. He was last seen alive by co-workers on the morning of  August 6, at the clinic, and was reported missing the next day when he did not show up for work. A Search and Rescue crew found his remains later that day.

 Details of the Bear-Caused Fatality

Three documents about the incident have been released.  They contain details, some quite unpleasant, about events preceding the attack, the victim’s body and the aftermath of the attack.  If you are really interested,  you can find them via these links:

The situation seems to be that Crosby set off on a short day hike.  During the hike, in an area off of the trail,  he apparently surprised a female grizzly with two cubs.  The bear attacked and killed him then fed on his body and cached it for later feeding.

What Happened to the Bears?

Grizzly with CubsScientists used hairs found on Crosby and genetic analysis to exactly identify the bear that killed him.  The bear was euthanized and her cubs were sent to the Toledo Zoo in Ohio.  The mother bear was doing what comes naturally, however she had attacked an animal she had never attacked before.  Bears learn quickly and she had probably already added humans to her list of available foods that are pretty easy to get.   She had become much too dangerous to leave in the Park or be relocated.  Her cubs had also been taught that humans are food and could not be released in the wild – plus they were too young to survive on their own.

What to do in Bear Country

Federal agencies have these recommendations when traveling in bear country:

  1. bear sprayBe Vigilant – Being vigilant for bears and bear sign (tracks, scat, feeding sites) can reduce the chances of stumbling onto a bear at a close distance, thereby reducing the risk of bear attack. Be especially vigilant if hiking off-trail. Bears may be more likely to respond aggressively in off-trail areas where they don’t expect to encounter people. However, bears frequently use maintained trails and encounters may occur anywhere. The BOR encourages hikers to remain vigilant while hiking in all bear country.
  2. Carry Bear Spray – Bear spray has proven to be effective at stopping aggressive bear behavior during surprise encounters when the person involved has time to deploy it. The public should be made aware of this fact and encouraged to carry bear spray and to be familiar with how to rapidly deploy it.
  3. Make Noise – Making noise while hiking is an effective method of forewarning bears of your presence, thereby reducing the chances of surprise encounters and related attacks.
  4. Don’t Run – Running during an encounter can trigger a chase response in a bear. In addition, jogging in bear country increases the odds of surprise encounters at close distances and surprised bears are more likely to be aggressive.
  5. Do not Hike Alone – Hiking in group sizes of 3 or more people or traveling by horseback is known to reduce the risks of bear attack. Larger groups are more intimidating to bears and more likely to have at least one member making noise or being vigilant, thereby reducing the risk of bear attack. Horses are more likely to smell, hear, or see a bear before a person does, reducing the likelihood of surprise encounters. Horses are also more intimidating to bears and if needed, unlike humans, are capable of outrunning and outmaneuvering bears.

Crosby was an experienced hiker in bear country and knew these rules.  He was known to be vigilant about bears and eschewed carrying bear spray feeling that it made him complacent in his vigilance.  No one knows if he was making noise or running, because he was alone.  It’s not likely he was running, because he had just recovered from a sprained ankle.

It is critical that hikers remain vigilant whether or not they carry bear spray.  Bear spray is really a last resort if all the other efforts fail and a bear attacks.  Crosby lacked bear spray and the opportunity to use it in a final attempt to save his life. The fact that he was hiking alone heightened his risk considerably. Just being in a group helps with noise and vigilance.  There are no guarantees that applying all five of these rules would have saved Crosby, but they may have helped.

The Bottom Line for All of Us

Follow all five of these rules.  I don’t hike much in grizzly country anymore, but most of my hiking is in the land of black bears.  While black bears may attack,  in my experience they much prefer to run – even if they have cubs with them.  They may, however, come poking around your tent in the night if you haven’t properly kept food odors away.

In the past I have done a lot of solo hiking, but of late I’ve been participating in group hikes that resolve recommendation 5.  What I fail to do is carry bear spray.  A can of bear spray runs around $50 and it helps to have a holster that allows quick access to it.  It’s definitely on my purchase list before I get out into bear country this spring.

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