Within hours after the young woman's corpse was found, investigators had obtained a good set of prints and put together a profile of the killer: an adolescent, probably an addict, a wanderer who would likely attack again if he got the chance.

As soon as the slaying hit the newspapers, a flood of mail poured in to Park Superintendent Bob Bardee -- almost all of it defending the killer. "There was a strong consensus in the letters that we should not try to catch the individual responsible for this killing," Bardee said.

"The individual responsible" for the dismemberment of a 25-year-old Swiss tourist at a remote Yellowstone campsite this summer was a grizzly bear. Park biologists say it was a relatively young one, judging from tooth prints, and evidently one that is addicted to the taste of flesh.

The letter writers presumably will be pleased to know that the young bear evaded the rangers' snares. Indeed, there is strong evidence that the same grizzly was responsible for the mauling of a 12-year-old boy two weeks after the Swiss camper was killed.

But for park officials, the killing and the public reaction to it crystalize why wild bears have become, as Bardee puts it, "the No. 1 management problem in the national park system."

Rudely ignoring the guidelines in the state-federal Wildlife Management Program and the best-laid plans of the Inter-Agency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC), the grizzly bear, untamed and indomitable, went on a rampage this summer.

For reasons that humans cannot discern, there were many more confrontations between grizzlies and people in the Yellowstone area and in Glacier National Park in northern Montana this year than in any recent summer.

The "summer of many maulings," as Yellowstone information officer Joan Anzelmo described it, came after a relatively peaceful 1983 that led rangers and biologists to hope that they had found ways to balance two conflicting missions: preserving the bears but still keeping their ruggedly beautiful habitat here open to human visitors.

"At the heart of it, we have a dual mandate that creates a dilemma," said biologist Gary Brown, Yellowstone's chief grizzly expert.

"We have a recreation function, which is to make this park accessible and safe for people. But we also have a conservation mission: we have to conserve the natural ecosystem. Grizzly bears are part of it."

The continent's largest carnivore once roamed the area by the tens of thousands.

Today naturalists estimate there are fewer than 1,000 grizzly bears in the lower 48 states, about 200 of them in Yellowstone.

The grizzly is still thriving in wild areas of Canada and in Alaska, where there are an estimated 10,000.

But preservation of the bear in its forest home here has become a major symbol for those who believe that man has an obligation to conserve the natural wonders of the Earth. "Alive, the grizzly is a symbol of freedom and understanding," wrote the naturalist Frank Craighead in his eloquent study, "Track of the Grizzly."

"Extinct, it will be another fading testimony of the things man could have learned more about but was too preoccupied with himself to notice."

In addition to the threat to humans, contact between bears and people is highly dangerous for the diminishing population of Yellowstone grizzlies. One of Yellowstone's 30 breeding females died after being sedated for a helicopter trip to a remote region. A cub strangled after putting his head, rather than a paw, down a bait hole rigged with a wire noose trap.

Yellowstone's basic approach is to keep bears and people apart -- to cut the bear off from human contact and food sources so that it will rely on natural sources of food.

Portions of Yellowstone -- up to a fifth of the 2 million-acre park at times -- have been shut off to people as "Bear Closure" areas. Garbage, which was once thrown by the roadside so tourists could watch the bears come down for a wallow, is packed up and trucked to dumps 50 miles away. Any bear caught near people is hauled away by helicopter to a remote spot.

In 1983, that seemed to be working. This summer, though, there were about 1,000 sightings of grizzlies in Yellowstone alone, more than double the 1983 figure. In addition to the killing of the Swiss woman, about a half dozen people were hospitalized after run-ins with bears.

Statistically, that's a fairly small number of incidents. But the increase is disturbing to offficials here.

"Anyway, it's not so much a matter of numbers," Brown said. "It's a primal thing. Other than the shark, how many animals are there in this country that can instantly put the fear of death into a human being?"