LEWISTON – A summer survey that used dozens of remote cameras in hopes of capturing images of grizzly bears has failed to show any evidence the carnivores are roaming the wilds of North Idaho.
Still, federal biologists say the lack of photographic evidence doesn’t mean grizzlies haven’t migrated into the state.
Officials from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee say they collected more than 400 hair samples that have yet to be analyzed for their DNA.
“We didn’t have cameras at all of the sites, so it could be there are grizzly bears in there,” Chris Servheen, the grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Missoula, told the Lewiston Tribune.
The survey was launched after a guided hunter mistakenly shot and killed a grizzly last fall in the upper reaches of Kelly Creek, just three miles from the Montana border. It marked the first confirmed sighting of a grizzly bear in the Clearwater Region of Idaho since 1946.
The 400-pound bear was killed in the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem that extends from north-central Idaho into western Montana, where wildlife officials have been expecting grizzly bears to repopulate on their own. Wildlife officials compared DNA from the bear with those living in 15 other areas before concluding it matched best with grizzlies from the Selkirks.
The survey focused on whether grizzlies had migrated into the Bitterroots.
Researchers placed automatic cameras at 51 sites. The cameras produced 408 photos. Among the images recorded were 84 black bears, five coyotes, seven wolves, one mountain lion, 177 deer, 33 elk and 54 moose, but no grizzlies.
They also set up 68 sites without cameras to lure grizzlies. Each site was baited with food scents and designed so any animal attempting to reach the lures would leave hair samples. The samples will be analyzed this winter.
The region has long been considered prime habitat for grizzlies. During the Clinton administration, wildlife officials were on the verge of releasing up to 25 grizzlies in the greater Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem. But the plan was unpopular with Idaho political leaders, including then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, and was ultimately shelved due to lack of funding when President Bush took office in 2001.
Servheen said officials will continue to search for evidence of grizzlies in the Bitterroot Mountains. The plan is to set up more sites for scent lures next summer.