Motorists trying to avoid a young grizzly crossing the highway in Grand Teton National Park led to the bear's death as one of the vehicles clipped him, according to an ongoing investigation.
The driver of the vehicle that struck the bear on Thursday, a 29-year-old Pennsylvania man, sustained minor injuries and his sedan incurred significant damage, park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs said Friday in a release.
The preliminary investigation "determined that a southbound vehicle slightly swerved to avoid a young grizzly bear that was trying to cross the highway. That unexpected maneuver caused the northbound vehicle to also swerve, over correct, and veer off into the sagebrush on the west side of Highway 26/89/191," she said. "At some point while the vehicle careened through the sage, it collided with the bear—the animal was not struck on the road surface."
The vehicle came to rest about 80 feet off the road, according to investigators. "Findings from the accident scene reconstruction suggest that neither vehicle was speeding at the time of the incident. The daytime speed limit on this highway is 55 mph," the park release noted.
The young bear was still breathing when park rangers arrived at the scene, but it died shortly after. Grand Teton biologists removed the carcass and took hair and tissue samples as well as a tooth to determine the age of the bear. Biologists will submit a hair sample for DNA testing to determine whether this bear is related to identifiable grizzlies within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team conducts research on grizzly bears throughout the 22-million-acre GYE as part of a long-term effort to monitor the population. The hair sample will be matched with available data collected by this interdisciplinary group of scientists and biologists. The team has obtained data on grizzlies through biological samples and radio-collar tracking since 1973.
This is the first bear fatality caused by a vehicle on park roads this year, according to Ms. Skaggs.