A Montana sheriff has thanked a huge search and rescue mission, involving people on the ground as well as helicopters, that discovered a missing hiker who appears to have been killed by a grizzly bear north of Yellowstone national park.
“We’re fortunate to have a group of experienced volunteers on our [search and rescue] team and we’re thankful for the folks who have come to help,” the Park county sheriff, Brad Bichler, said in a statement.
The search involved flying thermal imaging late into the night on Thursday and then helicopters and ground search teams as well as a horse search team on Friday. But the all-out effort ended with the man’s remains were found.
The victim was identified as Craig Clouatre, 40, of Livingston. No details were provided on where he was found or why a grizzly bear was believed responsible for his death.
The search concentrated on the Six Mile Creek area of the Absaroka Mountains, located about 30 miles (48km) south of Livingston, Montana.
Authorities were working on Friday to return Clouatre’s body to his family, Bichler said in a social media post.
Clouatre’s father told the Associated Press that his son grew up in Massachusetts and moved more than two decades ago to Montana, where Clouatre met his future wife, Jamie, and decided to make a home.
“He was a joy to have as a son all the way around,” David Clouatre said. “He was a good man, a good, hard-working family man.”
The mountains in the area where Craig Clouatre died rise steeply above the Yellowstone River as it passes through the Paradise Valley. Dense forests at higher elevations are home to bears and other wildlife, although dangerous encounters with people are relatively rare.
Clouatre frequented those mountains and others around the park, hiking in summer and ice climbing in winter when he wasn’t home with his wife and their four young children, said Anne Tanner, a friend of the victim.
Tanner said she had known Clouatre for about a decade because he worked for commercial food companies and delivered to their restaurant, the Emigrant Outpost.
The restaurant held a benefit for the Clouatre family after their house burned down two years ago. Tanner said they had only recently recovered from the fire.
“He was finally just getting their house together,“ she said. “It just makes me angry that something like this could happen to such a good person … Of all the men I know, I can’t believe he would die in the wilderness. He was so strong and he was so smart.“
Since 2010, grizzlies in the Yellowstone region have killed at least eight people.
Among them was a backcountry guide killed by a bear last year along Yellowstone’s western border. Guide Charles “Carl” Mock was killed in April after being mauled by a 400-plus lb (181-plus kg) male grizzly while fishing alone at a favorite spot on Montana’s Madison River, where it spills out of the park.
Grizzlies are protected under federal law outside Alaska. Elected officials in the Yellowstone region are pushing to lift protections and allow grizzly hunting.
The Yellowstone region spanning portions of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming has more than 700 bears. Fatal attacks on humans are rare but have increased in recent decades as the grizzly population grew and more people moved into rural areas near bear habitat.