A portion of the Custer Gallatin National Forest in Montana is closed after a woman was found dead following an apparent bear encounter, wildlife officials said.
Grizzly bear tracks were found near the woman’s body, which was discovered Saturday on the Buttermilk Trail, west of the town of West Yellowstone, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks said in a statement.
“The Custer Gallatin National Forest has issued an emergency closure of the Buttermilk area for human safety,” the statement said.
The forest in southeastern Montana borders Yellowstone National Park. Grizzly bear populations have expanded in the area in recent years, the statement from wildlife officials said.
Grizzly bears are protected as a threatened species in the contiguous 48 states. They rarely show predatory behavior toward humans, according to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, which consists of representatives from federal wildlife and forest management agencies, along with state wildlife agencies in Idaho, Montana, Washington and Wyoming.
“Most dangerous encounters with bears happen when the bear is surprised, protecting cubs, or guarding a large food source, such as a carcass,” the committee’s website said.
In nearby Yellowstone, there have been eight deadly bear encounters since the park was established in 1872.
Montana wildlife officials are urging people to be “bear aware,” including carrying and knowing how to use bear spray, traveling in groups when possible and never approaching a bear.