By Ruffin Prevost
CODY, Wyo (Reuters) - A mother grizzly previously allowed to roam free after killing a hiker in Yellowstone National Park in July has been euthanized after park officials linked the bear to a second fatal mauling in August.
DNA and footprint analysis showed the bear from July's attack was among as many as seven grizzlies "associated" with the second victim, John Wallace, 59, whose remains were found a day after he was attacked, Park Superintendent Dan Wenk said on Monday.
Wallace, from Chassell, Michigan, had been hiking alone through the backcountry Mary Mountain Trail when he died.
"We'll never know which one of the bears killed him," Wenk said during a luncheon appearance sponsored by Cody-area Chamber of Commerce, adding that the "extent of engagement" by the now-euthanized grizzly also remains unclear.
But Yellowstone officials decided that the bear should be destroyed because of its involvement in a second fatal encounter with a park visitor.
"The bear management program in Yellowstone National Park is far too important than to risk it on one bear," Wenk said.
The female grizzly euthanized on Sunday was previously determined to have attacked and killed another man, Brian Matayoshi, 58, who inadvertently surprised the bear and its two cubs as he and his wife were hiking along the Wapiti Lake Trail on July 6.
Investigators concluded that Matayoshi and his wife may have unwittingly helped provoke the attack by running from the animal in panic, heightening the bear's chase response.
Because the mother grizzly was believed to have acted in a purely defensive manner to protect its young, and had no known previous contacts with humans, park officials initially decided to allow it to roam free.
But the bear came under suspicion a month later when Wallace turned up dead within miles of July's attack, and officials said then that they would compare DNA samples from the two incidents to learn whether the mother grizzly was involved in both. Those tests came back positive.
The two cubs were sent to a public refuge for orphaned and injured wildlife called the West Yellowstone Grizzly and Wolf Discovery center, Wenk said.
The bear maulings in July and August mark the first fatal grizzly attacks on humans in Yellowstone since 1986.
Earlier in August, park officials euthanized a 4-year-old male grizzly after that animal charged a man sitting on a trail near Yellowstone Lake. That hiker was unhurt, but the bear was determined to pose a hazard to park visitors because of previous encounters.
Yellowstone averages just one bear-related human injury for every 3 million visitors, or about one a year, though no visitors were hurt by bears in all of 2010.
(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)