The bear that attacked a pair of hikers in Gallatin National Forest last Friday will not be killed or relocated, wildlife officials said Monday.

Sam Sheppard, a warden with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said the agency would have no way of knowing which bear was involved.

The bear attacked Mike Gersack, 32, and Shawna Ridge, 36, who are from Big Sky and Los Gatos, Calif., respectively, as the two were hiking in the Deer Creek area. Both were released from Bozeman Deaconess Hospital after being treated for non life-threatening injuries.

The attack occurred when an elk ran by the hikers, Sheppard said. The elk was being chased by a young grizzly bear and a sow. The young bear saw the hikers, then stopped, stood up and looked at them.

The sow came running from behind the young bear and was likely alarmed when it saw the cub standing, Sheppard said.

The man tried to help the woman up a tree, and the sow bit the woman in the leg. The man tried to fight off the bear, and it then bit him in the forearm. Neither hiker was carrying bear spray.

Sheppard said the bear was instinctually trying to protect its cub, and when the man put the woman in the tree, it likely triggered the bear's response.

"When there's a threat to the cub, the sow comes to eliminate that threat," Sheppard said, adding that the pair's injuries could've been much worse.

"In the big scheme of things, it was a very tolerant bear," Sheppard said. "It bit the lady once, but didn't drag her out of the tree. It bit the man once and left...If a bear wants to hurt you badly, it's going to."

Sheppard said this year, the likelihood of running into a bear will be greater because the snowpack in the mountains is pushing bears, deer, elk and other animals down lower. He noted that elk will begin calving soon, and said those areas should be avoided because they're places where grizzlies tend to hunt.

Sheppard said being aware of signs, making noise when walking, and carrying pepper spray are ways to avoid bears and be protected. Pepper spray can be purchased at most sporting good stores, and should be accessible rather than in a backpack, he said. Those who find themselves in an encounter with a bear should remain calm, make no sudden movements, and ease out of the area.

This week is National Bear Awareness Week, and the predator-protection group Keystone Conservation has sent out reminders on how to avoid bear encounters. Their tips for households included taking down bird feeders for the summer, picking ripe fruit and cleaning up fruit that has dropped from trees or bushes, as well as landscaping with plants that don't attract bears. In the backcountry, camps should be clean with food items secured.

Carly Flandro can be reached at 582-2638 or cflandro@dailychronicle.com.

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