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35-year-old man 'seriously injured' after encountering 2 grizzly bears in national park

Officials said they believe it was a "surprise encounter" and that one of the two bears made contact with the tourist.
Grizzly bear
Posted at 7:18 PM, May 21, 2024

A 35-year-old man was "seriously injured" after a surprise encounter with two grizzly bears in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park.

The incident occurred Sunday afternoon while the man was visiting from Massachusetts, the National Park Service said. Law enforcement and park rangers believe he unknowingly came close to the two bears in the area of Signal Mountain Summit Road, and then one made contact, injuring him.

Responding Grand Teton National Park rangers and Teton County Search and Rescue provided "emergency medical care" before airlifting the man by helicopter to an ambulance that took him to a hospital, NPS said. He is now in stable condition and expected to make a full recovery.

The weekend attack prompted the Signal Mountain Summit Road and Trail to be closed to the public.

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Last month, Grand Teton National Park, which is located in northwest Wyoming, posted a news release notifying visitors that bears across Jackson Hole were emerging from their winter dens. The first bear sighting this year was March 26, but the park said the frequency of sightings had increased due to the disappearing winter snowpack.

The park said male bears typically come out of hibernation in March while females and young appear between April and early May. The circumstances surrounding the bears involved in the human attack are unclear, but the park warns that the animals can be "attracted to anything associated with human or animal" when they're easily accessible.

It also said if a bear becomes conditioned to human foods, it's more likely to "exhibit increasingly bold behavior," increasing the risk to humans and the animals that call Teton County their home.

"Seeing a bear in its natural habitat is an awe-inspiring experience," the Grand Teton National Park release said. "However, living and recreating in bear country requires awareness and actions on our part to keep bears wild and people safe."

The park asks visitors and residents to take precautions to prevent human-bear conflicts. That includes properly securing all food and never leaving it unattended, keeping a clean camp adhering to food storage orders, storing garbage properly until it can be deposited into a bear-resistant dumpster and more. It also warns to stay away from bears if you see them.

"If you see a bear, please give it space. Always stay at least 100 yards away," Grand Teton said. "If you choose to watch or photograph the bear, use a spotting scope, binoculars or telephoto lens."

But if you do run into a bear, do not actually run. Back away slowly, and carry bear spray. Just make sure you know how to use it.

The warnings are particularly important as more people are visiting Grand Teton National Park than in years past. In 2023, the park saw a 22% increase in visitors from the year prior. It also saw higher levels of visitors in the later months of summer, from July to September.

In August, a black bear was reported to have consumed human food from an unattended backpack near Phelps Lake in the park. The incident followed three other incidents of black bears doing the same. The park said almost half of all human-black bear conflicts within the park in the five years before that incident occurred around the lake.