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Bear pulls woman out of her tent, kills her in Montana

| July 9, 2021 7:00 AM

HELENA Mont. (AP) — A grizzly bear pulled a woman from her tent in the middle of the night and killed her before fellow campers could use bear spray to force the bruin out of the area, Montana wildlife officials said Wednesday.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials released more information about the attack that killed Leah Davis Lokan, 65, of Chico, California. She was participating in a long-distance bicycling trip and had stopped in the western Montana town of Ovando on Monday night. A helicopter search for the bear has been unsuccessful.

The bear had awakened the woman and two others who were camping near the post office about 3 a.m. Tuesday, officials said. The bear then ran away.

The campers removed food from their tents, secured it and went back to sleep, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials said.

The approximately 400-pound (181 kilogram) bear was captured by a video camera at a business about a block away from the post office about 15 minutes later, wildlife officials said.

Less than an hour later, two people in a tent near the victim's were awakened by sounds of the attack. They sprayed the bear with bear spray, and it ran away. The 911 call was made at 4:14 a.m., Powell County Sheriff Gavin Roselles said.

The bear is also believed to have entered a chicken coop in town, killing and eating several chickens.

"At this point, our best chance for catching this bear will be culvert traps set in the area near the chicken coop where the bear killed and ate several chickens," said Randy Arnold, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks regional supervisor in Missoula

The bear will be killed if it is found, said Greg Lemon, a spokesperson for Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Investigators have obtained DNA from the bear at the scene of the attack and will be able to compare it with any bruin they are able to trap, the agency said.

Ovando, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) northwest of Helena, is a community of fewer than 100 people at the edge of the sprawling Bob Marshall wilderness.

Grizzly bears have run into increasing conflict with humans in the Northern Rockies over the past decade as the federally protected animals expanded into new areas and the number of people living and recreating in the region grew. That has spurred calls from elected officials in Montana and neighboring Wyoming and Idaho to lift protections so the animals could be hunted.

North of Ovando lies an expanse of forests and mountains including Glacier National Park that stretches to Canada and is home to an estimated 1,000 grizzlies. It's the largest concentration of the bruins in the contiguous U.S.

Fatal attacks are rare in the region. There have been three in the last 20 years, including Tuesday's mauling, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In 2001, a hunter was killed by a grizzly with two cubs while he was gutting an elk at a wildlife management area west of Ovando. The three animals were shot and killed by wildlife officials days later.

Over the past 20 years, there have been eight fatal maulings of people by grizzlies from a separate population of about 700 bears in and around Yellowstone National Park. In April, a backcountry guide was killed by a grizzly bear while fishing along the park's border in southwestern Montana.

Bears that attack people are not always killed if the mauling resulted from a surprise encounter or the bear was defending its young. But the bear involved in Tuesday's death is considered a public safety threat because of the circumstances of the attack, Lemon said.