HELENA Mont. — A grizzly bear pulled a woman from her tent in a small Montana town in the middle of the night and killed her before fellow campers could use bear spray to force the bruin out of the area, wildlife officials said.
Leah Davis Lokan, 65, of Chico, California, was on a long-distance bicycling trip and had stopped in the western Montana town of Ovando when she was killed early Tuesday, said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials as they provided more details about the attack.
Lokan was killed on the bear’s second visit to the site where she and two fellow bicyclists were camping near the post office, officials said.
The approximately 400-pound grizzly first awakened the campers about 3 a.m., officials said. They took food out of their tents, secured it and went back to sleep, they said.
Surveillance video from a business in town showed the bear about a block from the post office about 15 minutes later, wildlife officials said.
About 4:15 a.m., the sheriff’s office received a 911 call after two people in a tent near the victim’s were awakened by sounds of the attack, Powell County Sheriff Gavin Roselles said. They discharged their bear spray, and the bear ran away.
The bear is also believed to have entered a chicken coop in town that night, killing and eating several chickens.
Efforts to find and kill the bear entered a third day Thursday. Wildlife officials stopped the helicopter flights that were used in the initial search for the grizzly and set five large traps — made out of culverts and baited with roadkill — in and around Ovando. That included traps near the chicken coop that the bear raided the night Lokan was killed.
Investigators got DNA left by the bear at the scene of the attack and could compare it with any bruin they are able to trap. Bear specialists and game wardens also were stationed near the traps to shoot the animal if the opportunity arises, said Greg Lemon, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesperson.
“Our best chance would be if the bear comes back and tries to get another chicken or some more food around town,” Lemon said. “Our wardens, they feel like they could readily identify the bear that they saw on the [surveillance footage] and if they saw that bear at the trap and had a clear shot at it, they might choose to do that.”
Lokan, a registered nurse who had worked at a hospital in Chico, had looked forward to the Montana bike trip for months, said Mary Flowers, a friend of the victim’s from Chico. Lokan had taken previous long-distance bike trips and on this one was accompanied by her sister and a friend, Flowers said.
“She was talking about her summer plans — this wonderful wild adventure, riding her bike on, I don’t know, a 400-mile trip or something,” Flowers said. “A woman in her 60s, and she’s doing this kind of stuff — she had a passion for life that was out of the ordinary.”
People who camp in grizzly bear country — whether deep in the woods or in a developed campground — are advised to keep food and scented products like toothpaste away from their campsites at all times and to cook elsewhere.
If a bear comes through a campsite, it’s important to stay on lookout for the animal to return, Lemon said.
“You’ve secured your food, stay awake, stay vigilant and be ready,” he said. “Having bear spray is important, and they did, but we don’t know if the victim did.”
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.
Ovando, about 60 miles northwest of Helena, is a community of fewer than 100 people at the edge of the sprawling Bob Marshall wilderness.
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 Lokan’s death is considered a public safety threat because of the circumstances of the attack, Lemon said.
Amy Beth Hanson and Matthew Brown, The Associated Press