JACKSON — Food, garbage and vomit were scattered around a dispersed Darby Canyon campsite early June 14 when state wildlife officials arrived to respond to a report of a pre-dawn mountain lion attack.
The supposed cat struck through a tent, raking a sleeping man in the back.
But at the scene, Wyoming Game and Fish Department staffers Mike Boyce and Becca Lyon saw no sign of a cat. They did see ursine spoor, and 50 yards off the campsite found a decomposed deer carcass that had been fed on by a black bear just the night before.
“Clearly a bear had been feeding on it recently,” Game and Fish spokesman Mark Gocke said, “so we decided to set a trap.”
Interviewing the 20-something campers who had been awakened, carnivore managers came to the conclusion that the attack wasn’t necessarily predatory in nature.
“We think that it was a pretty food-conditioned bear and it was probably testing the tent to see if there was food in it,” Gocke said. “Then it feels a guy, the guy gets startled, the bear gets startled and the guy gets scratched.”
The opportunistic animal was gentle enough in its exploration of the slumbering human that it didn’t tear through the tent or the man’s clothing. Nevertheless, its claws broke skin, causing a minor injury.
The bear’s interest in the scene was easily explained.
“Frankly, it was a pretty messy campsite,” Gocke said.
Photos shared by the Caribou-Targhee National Forest show vomit, bags and burnt cans of Bud Light.
There were indications that the bear was already habituated: candy wrappers littered its feces, Gocke said. Lyon’s dog growled at the scene, suggesting the bruin was lingering nearby, evidently undeterred by all the commotion.
On the night of June 14, the trap didn’t do the trick.
But during the daytime June 15, the baited culvert trap held a young female black bear — an animal with a notably blonde-colored coat that may explain the campers’ confused contention of having seen a lion.
Weighing the circumstances, the carnivore crew made the call to kill the bruin.
“It was pretty bold,” Gocke said. “Clearly it was a human safety threat, and it did injure a person, too. Whether it meant to or not, it did, so it just didn’t seem like a bear that we should relocate.”
West of the Tetons on the Caribou-Targhee, it is illegal to leave food and garbage scattered around a campsite at night. The national forest, not Game and Fish, enforces the food-storage order, which applies to parts of the Teton Basin, Ashton/Island Park and Dubois ranger districts, and was put in place to prevent conflicts with grizzly bears.
“All food and refuse must be acceptably stored during nighttime hours,” the order reads, “unless it is being prepared for eating, being eaten, being transported, or being prepared for acceptable storage.”
Teton Basin District Ranger Jay Pence is taking steps to enforce the law.
“I did an incident report and turned it over to law enforcement,” Pence told the Jackson Hole Daily.
There are multiple possible citations coming, he said, including for littering and violating the food storage order.
Pence declined to name names in the party, but said they’re local Wydahoans.
“They were people who should know better, definitely,” he said.
West slope Teton campers could apparently use the reminder. While making the rounds Thursday after speaking with the Jackson Hole Daily, Pence came upon a vacant campsite up Teton Canyon. People were nowhere to be seen, but a campfire still smoldered and out in plain sight atop a cooler were some Peter Pan peanut butter, white bread, and an unclipped bag of sour cream and onion Lays potato chips.