Thursday, August 13, Yellowstone officials euthanized a bear believed responsible for the death of a hiker.
This decision came nearly a week after the body of 63-year old Lance Crosby, a Billings, MT resident and seasonal employee, was discovered partially consumed and cached August 7. After Park biologists laid grizzly traps, catching the bear and her two cubs. After a forensic autopsy concluded Crosby died from a bear attack.
Many protested the decision.
The grizzly’s death has come as a blow to some wildlife advocates who were campaigning to save the mama bear. [Yellowstone spokesperson Amy] Bartlett said offices across the park had been inundated with calls throughout the week from concerned citizens from around the country pleading for the bear’s life.
A man named Richard Spratley launched an online petition urging clemency for the bear. As of Thursday night, the petition had received over 130,000 signatures.
Further, the petition provided information not included or acknowledged in Yellowstone’s initial press releases; the petition posited the grizzly sow had a name: Blaze.
Other area residents, including wildlife biologists and photographers, have come forward endorsing this identification.
In the case of this particular bear, she was a 20 year old sow many of us called “Blaze.” In those two decades, she had never been known to be aggressive toward people. In fact, she was remarkably tolerant given some of the situations she found herself in. She lived out her life in areas of high visibility in the park and therefore drew crowds for years on end. She raised many cubs, and she never got into serious trouble.
Yellowstone National Park has not acknowledged whether Blaze was responsible for Crosby’s death; they never will, because the general practice among Park biologists and rangers is never to name animals in the Park.
“We don’t name any bears in the Park, and what I’ve found is that people have multiple names for the same bear and different bears – that’s the problem with trying to name a wild animal,” said Yellowstone Public Affairs Officer Julena Campbell. “We’ve had multiple people look at pictures [of the bear] and even amongst themselves people who are familiar with these local names don‘t agree.”
The practice of naming wildlife is more common among wildlife photographers and watchers, who use the names to designate ranges and simplify discussions regarding who saw what and where.
“I came here in ’95 to live next to Yellowstone where bears live,” said biology teacher and avid wildlife photographer Amy Gerber of Cody. “My first photos of Blaze are from 2004. I’ve watched her raise three of her litters of cubs over the years. It’s not that we’re in the habit of trying to name all the bears. I’m a biologist, and I understand the need for scientific approaches, but naming is mostly among people and photographers who regularly watch the wildlife so we can communicate, ‘Oh yeah, that was Blaze,’ or ‘yeah that was Raspberry,’ so we know who we’re talking about.”
Nonetheless, in spite of possible ambiguities and oversights, area wildlife photographers and watchers have concluded (based on the circumstances of the incident) that Blaze was the bear involved in Crosby’s death, and later euthanized for it.
Blaze, named for a white streak on her flank, has been described as a prominent bear in Yellowstone National Park, known for roaming near roadsides and for her prodigious family, raising five litters of cubs in her life.
“If this really was Blaze, I know this bear well and have enjoyed the time I have had to view her,” said Tenley Thompson, a wildlife biologist in Jackson. “She was a very important grizzly bear in Yellowstone. She was not only beloved by the public, but was biologically important as well.”
The cubs orphaned by Blaze’s death will be going to the Toledo Zoo, as they are too young to fend for themselves in the wild.