YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK — Any fatality in or around Yellowstone National Park sparks interest around the nation and globe. But while opinions about how and why people die there may run hot, visitors say they’re not likely to change their behavior.
The most recent fatality in the park happened Saturday when 47-year-old Amie Adamson was found on the Buttermilk Trail, roughly 8 miles from West Yellowstone. It was determined the Kansas resident died of injuries suffered in a bear attack, most likely after a surprise encounter with a mother grizzly and her cub.
The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks determined the attack was defensive based on Adamson's wounds. After a brief search, the agency announced the mother and cub had likely left the area and has ended its efforts locate and capture either bear.
Campgrounds in the area were closed after Adamson's body was found. But in Yellowstone National Park, it was - and is - business as usual. There were no signs of fear or concern on the faces of the tens of thousands of people flooding into the park during the busiest month of the year.
Knowing a woman was killed by a grizzly only days before and that wildlife officials have been unable to capture the bear, are visitors worried there’s a killer grizzly on the loose in Yellowstone?
‘It’s Not A Petting Zoo’
Cowboy State Daily talked with more than 30 Yellowstone visitors Tuesday at three locations in the park: Fishing Bridge, Old Faithful and a pullover on Sylvan Pass (ironically caused by a mother grizzly and two cubs visible in the area).
More specifically, are they concerned about the recent incident with a bear killing Adamson.
The consensus was unanimous. Without question, everyone said they feel no less safe in the park and had no intention of changing their Yellowstone plans.
Naturally, there was sympathy for Adamson and her family, with some commentary on the circumstances that led to her death.
"We just heard about this morning," said Shane, visiting with his son Wesley from Mississippi. "It's gonna happen. If you surprise a bear and don't do the proper things, you'll get killed."
Tara Underwood from Iowa was similarly blunt as she and her family stopped to observe a far-off grizzly family.
"People forget it's not a petting zoo," she said.
Chris and David were strolling across Fishing Bridge before driving off to Grand Teton National Park. After several days in Yellowstone, they determined the situation was entirely preventable.
"If she's hiking by herself, that's kinda dumb," Chris said. "Hiking by yourself in bear country is dumb. Hiking by yourself, in general, is not smart."
Chris and David said they bought bear spray and bear bells as soon as they arrived.
While most acknowledged the wild nature of Yellowstone’s wildlife and the potential for encounters, no one said they fear for their safety, not even with a moment of hesitation.
Part of this confidence stems from their understanding of the environment. Another comes from their plans to stick to boardwalks and popular park stops — "stick with the herd," one could say.
"I feel bad that happened to that woman, but you gotta remember this is the animal's house, not our house. We're the guests," said Shawn and Maddie from Ohio as they made their way to the boardwalk in anticipation of the 1:58 p.m. eruption of Old Faithful.
"I don't condone the fact that she was attacked, but if you're in a place where that can happen, you have to expect something like that," said Brian, who’s from Louisiana.
Brian saw no reason for fear for his safety, partly because he's barely seen any of Yellowstone’s famous bears.
"I've been here two other times, and I've only seen a brown bear once and a grizzly bear once. Of course, those were at long distances, and we don't go hiking in the backcountry," he said.
‘I Would Never Hike Alone’
Meanwhile, John from Texas said he and his family were "going horseback riding in (West Yellowstone) tomorrow. Still going out on the Madison to fish."
Mike and Lisa are backcountry hikers from California. They were passing through Old Faithful before hiking the whole geyser basin.
"I would never hike alone in grizzly country — ever, ever, ever," Lisa emphasized. "I read this 15 years ago, so maybe things have changed, but when I read it, there were no reported attacks where a person was with four or more people."
Adamson was on a backcountry trail when she died.
So, had the California couple reconsidered their hiking route?
"No way," Mike said. "We're backcountry campers. I think that a lot of times, those things happen because of ignorance. If you're in active bear country, there are precautions you take."
He and Laura are "nomads" who left California three years ago and have been traveling the world. They admitted they had no planned itinerary in Yellowstone, but wouldn't be deterred by the bear attack.
"No. Fearless!" Oscar exclaimed when asked if he was concerned about their safety (he and Laura already had bear spray).
Some Say They Know Better
"Not really. I feel like I'll stay away from those areas where that might happen to me,” said Mirosa from Minnesota. “If I saw an animal like that coming anywhere near me, I'd get the heck outta there — fast.”
Jennifer from Louisiana was on her third trip to Yellowstone on Tuesday. She researched everything she needed to know about how to prevent grizzly attacks, but still made sure to not be in a spot where that knowledge would be needed.
"They said you should be prepared with at least three people hiking and that you should take some bear spray. So, you should go prepared if you're going to do something like that, right?" she said.
Alicia from Utah offered what one might call a "local perspective" for the American West: brief, blunt and practical: "There's bears around. We know about it. Stay aware. Stay around people. Don't be dumb."
Everyone Cowboy State Daily talked to also was asked if they were carrying bear spray.
Although there was near-universal awareness of bear spray and its importance, only 20% already had bear spray with them. Another 10% said they planned to buy or rent bear spray at some point on their trip.
Most had no intention of getting bear spray, believing their likelihood of running into a bear was low or nonexistent based on their plans.
There are facts to justify their self-assurance. According to the National Park Service, the odds of being attacked by a bear at Yellowstone National Park is 1 in 2.1 million.
While multiple attacks and some deaths are reported throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem each year, bears killing people is rare.
Andrew Rossi can be reached at email@example.com.