By Laura Zuckerman
(Reuters) - A Utah man who disappeared earlier this month while conducting research for the U.S. Forest Service in the Wyoming wilderness was killed by an attacking grizzly or black bear, authorities said on Monday.
The body of Adam Stewart, 31, of Virgin, Utah, was found on Friday in rugged mountainous terrain in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in west-central Wyoming where he had been working for an Idaho firm that conducts ecological assessments for government agencies, officials said.
An autopsy conducted on Sunday on Stewart, who had been the subject of a week of intensive ground and air searches, showed he died from blunt force trauma to the head stemming from a bear bite, Fremont County Coroner Edward McAuslan said on Monday.
The rare death from a bear attack in the 3.5-million acre forest comes as grizzlies and black bears are in search of food to bulk up in advance of their winter hibernation.
Stewart’s remains were found between a campsite he had erected and a plot of vegetation he was monitoring as part of a baseline inventory for the regional Forest Service office that oversees the Bridger-Teton, according to the firm employing Stewart, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Testing of blood and hair samples will be necessary to determine if a grizzly or black bear was behind the mauling, McAuslan said.
Tracks of adult bears and cubs were found near Stewart’s body, as were a pair of deer carcasses and signs of a so-called daybed, a hollowed area on the ground where bears rest during the heat of the day, said Jason Hunter, regional wildlife supervisor with Wyoming Game and Fish.
Hundreds of federally protected grizzly bears roam the Wyoming high country, with the bulk in and around Yellowstone National Park in the northwestern corner of the state. Wyoming averages about two bear attacks a year that cause human injury, Hunter said.
It did not appear Stewart was carrying bear spray or a firearm at the time of the mauling, he said.
Steve Rust, owner of the Idaho firm that employed Stewart, said the Utah man had been expected to hike out of the roadless area on Sept. 5 but failed to check in at a Wyoming office as planned the following day.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)