October 30, 2004 in Idaho

Officials investigate grizzly poaching

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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(Full-size photo)

Nearly five months after the crime occurred, Idaho Fish and Game Department officials disclosed Friday that it is investigating the illegal shooting of a grizzly bear in Boundary County.

Fresh remains of the adult male grizzly were found in early June near Hughes Meadows, which is in a remote area about three miles east of the Washington state line and nine miles south of the Canadian border. The Selkirk Mountain grizzly population is among the most endangered on the continent, with fewer than 40 bears thought to be remaining in the region’s forests.

Conservation Officer Brian Johnson said the case was not disclosed until now because investigators had hoped to conduct interviews without arousing much suspicion among potential informants. Poaching cases can be particularly difficult to solve.

“In wildlife crimes very rarely is there a witness,” Johnson said.

A reward of as much as $5,000 is now being offered to help solve the case.

The bear’s carcass was discovered by a black-bear hunter. The hunter contacted Idaho Fish and Game conservation officers, who collected the remains. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is assisting in the investigation.

“Why this particular bear was shot I can’t speculate,” Johnson said.

Many grizzly bears are mistakenly killed by black-bear hunters, Johnson said. “It can be extremely difficult to tell them apart.”

Not long ago, Johnson was part of a team that was sent to transport a trapped grizzly bear to a new location. Even from 20 feet away the species of bear was difficult to discern, he said. “None of us were sure what kind of bear we had until we darted it.”

About 90 percent of all grizzly bear mortality in North Idaho is the result of the bears being shot, Johnson said. Some are intentionally shot for trophies or for spite. But Johnson suspects most deaths can be blamed on mistaken identity.

“Very few of our bears live to old age,” Johnson said.

About 1,100 grizzly bears live in the lower 48 states, with roughly half in and around Yellowstone National Park, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Between 30 and 40 live in the Cabinet and Yaak mountains on the Idaho-Montana border. Fewer than 20 are believed to live in Washington’s North Cascades.


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