Suspected grizzly bear attacks, kills western Montana camper

OVANDO, Mont. — Montana authorities and wildlife officials are scouring the Ovando area after a suspected grizzly bear attacked and killed a camper there early Tuesday.

Powell County Sheriff Gavin Roselles told the Independent Record in Helena that the camper, who has not been identified publicly, was attacked at around 3:30 a.m. at a campground on the edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness along the Blackfoot River.

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Someone at the scene of the attack deployed bear spray, however, so the possible grizzly was nowhere in sight once first responders arrived, the newspaper reported.

Officials intend to kill the bear once it is located, The Associated Press reported.

“We have not positively identified the bear, and can’t say if it was or was not a grizzly bear. We’re still working on that,” Roselles told the Independent Record.

According to the newspaper, Ovando is a popular resting point for bicycle tourists traveling Highway 200 across the Continental Divide. A wildlife official confirmed to the AP that the victim is believed to have been part of a group on a biking trip.

Greg Lemon, spokesman for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, told the Independent Record that a bear was spotted on an Ovando-area camera Monday night and is suspected of raiding a chicken coop in town the same night the camper was fatally mauled.

“We have not had much grizzly conflict in Ovando so far this year,” Lemon said, noting that the often intimidating creatures are not unusual visitors to the area.

“In the past, we’ve had bears come into town. A few years ago we had two subadult bears that got into trash cans and caused problems,” he added.

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According to the AP, an estimated 50,000 grizzlies once inhabited western North America from the Pacific Ocean to the Great Plains, but hunting, commercial trapping and habitat loss wiped out most of the population by the turn of the 20th century. In turn, grizzly bears have been protected as a threatened species in the contiguous U.S. since 1975, allowing a slow recovery in a handful of areas.

The Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem - which extends from Glacier National Park on the Canadian border south to Ovando and just north of Missoula and Helena - is one such recovery area and has seen its grizzly bear population increase to about 1,000, alongside the more prolific black bears, the Independent Record reported.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.