Archived Story

Grizzly shot in Selway-Bitterroot
By PERRY BACKUS of the Missoulian

For the first time in decades, people venturing into the sprawling Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem are going to be told to keep their eyes peeled for grizzly bears.

That change follows the killing of a large grizzly bear in a roadless area of north-central Idaho, where the last confirmed sighting of the species came in 1946.

The grizzly was shot Sept. 3 by a Tennessee hunter near Kelly Creek, about three miles from the Montana border.

The hunter was on a guided trip hunting black bear over bait, which is legal in Idaho. The guide wasn't present when the grizzly was shot.

The bear was a young 400- to 500-pound male that was between 6 and 9 years old, said Chris Servheen, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's grizzly bear recovery coordinator.

“It was dark-colored with golden silver tips,” Servheen said. “It was very visibly a grizzly bear. The hunter was very regretful. It was shot in a place where he wasn't expecting to encounter a grizzly.

“There's been no documentation of a grizzly bear there for more than 60 years,” he said.

It's hard to tell where the bear came from or how long it had been there.

“The area is excellent grizzly bear habitat,” Servheen said. “The bear could have been there for a long period of time without anyone knowing it was there.”

Kelly Creek is in a 250,000-acre roadless area known as the Great Burn.

Wildlife officials have long thought grizzly bears would eventually repopulate the area on their own.

The bear's DNA will be tested in an attempt to determine if it originated from either the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem or the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem, which includes Glacier National Park.

Servheen said it's likely there could be other grizzly bears in the area.

“If one bear was able to make its way there, I think it's very likely that others could, too,” he said.

That fact could change the way people use portions of the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem.

“The whole mind-set starts changing now that people may see a grizzly in the area,” he said.

Both federal and state wildlife managers are already making plans to let people know they might encounter a grizzly bear, and to emphasize that the bears remain protected under the Endangered Species Act in this area.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lifted Endangered Species Act protections for grizzlies in and around Yellowstone National Park this spring. But the dead bear wasn't part of that population.

Officials say the shooting remains under investigation.

In the meantime, Servheen said signs telling bear hunters to take a good hard look at their target before pulling the trigger will be going up at area trailheads.

“Now that we have documentation, we're making great efforts to ensure that people know that grizzly bears could be in the area, especially hunters,” Servheen said. “We will be widely distributing signs to make people aware that grizzly bears are here.”

Officials may look at other ways to protect grizzlies in the Selway-Bitterroot.

“I've already put together a two-page list of issues that need to be discussed,” Servheen said. “We're meeting today to talk about some of those.”

The Friends of the Clearwater, a conservation group based in Moscow, Idaho, said the grizzly bear death was no surprise. In a letter to Servheen, the group said there have been reports of grizzly bears in the Bitterroot Mountains dating back into the late 1990s.

With confirmation in hand of grizzlies in the area, the group called on federal and state wildlife managers to take “swift action” to prevent further grizzly deaths from mistaken identity.

Its suggestions included requiring black bear hunters and outfitters using the area to receive training in bear identification. The group wants wildlife officials to inspect every bear killed in the area.

The group also wants the Fish and Wildlife Service to review Idaho's black bear hunting regulations that allow for baiting and hounding of bears, spring and fall hunting, and a liberal “take” in the Clearwater Basin.

“The huge number of black bear permits, the long seasons, and the fact that baiting and hounding are allowed in hunting black bears makes it even more likely tragedies like this will happen in the future,” said Will Boyd, Friends of the Clearwater's education director. “The Fish and Wildlife Service and Idaho Department of Fish and Game must change black bear hunting policies to make them friendly to grizzly recovery.”


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