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Grizzly paw offers eye-opening perspective

WILDLIFE — For all of you heading to Alaska or the coastal region of British Columbia, this photo offers a big validation to the guidelines I've been preaching about camping in grizzly country.

Look at that paw and those claws and say after me: 

"I will store my food properly, cook away from sleeping areas and carry bear spray."

Wisconsin hunter fined for killing Montana grizzly bear

HUNTING – A nonresident hunter has been ordered to pay more than $2,300 for mistakenly shooting and killing a grizzly bear in northwestern Montana. That's a light fine for killing a protected big-game species, likely the result of the hunter's cooperation in the case.

Richard Kutcher of Mukwonago, Wisconsin, thought the animal he shot May 16 was a black bear, not a grizzly.

Grizzly bears are listed as a threatened species and are illegal to hunt.

State wildlife officials say Kutcher reported the shooting to wildlife officials immediately and cooperated with the investigation.

Kutcher pleaded guilty in Flathead County Justice Court to killing a grizzly bear in a closed season. He was fined $235 and ordered to pay $2,000 in restitution.

Public opinion divided on restoring grizzly bears to Washington

WILDLIFE — U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staffers are working to draw conclusions from about 3,000 comments accumulated this year on a plan to restore grizzly bears to the North Cascades.

The Seattle Times reports that after public meetings in six cities an environmental-impact statement is in the works and a final decision is expected in late 2017.

Submitted comments range from outrage at the possible reintroduction of a predator to hopes of grizzly conservation.

Grizzlies would be returned to about 9,800 square miles, mostly federal lands, from the U.S-Canada border south to Wenatchee, extending west to towns such as North Bend and Darrington.

Most grizzly bears in the state were killed by settlers, officials said. Federal wildlife officials estimate there may be fewer than 20 of the bears living in the North Cascades south of Canada.

Glacier Park’s ‘Sun Road’ ready for motor vehicles

PARKS — Although bicyclists have been pedaling to Logan Pass on freshly plowed blacktop for three weeks, vehicle access from the west side to the top of Glacier National Park's Going to the Sun Road is set to open Friday, June 12.

The entire route through the Montana park should be open by June 19.

Following are details from a just-posted park media release:

WEST GLACIER, MONT. – Vehicle access to Logan Pass on the Going-to-the-Sun Road from the west side of Glacier National Park is anticipated to be available tomorrow morning, Thursday, June 11. Park road crews have finished snow removal, debris clean-up, guard rail installation, and facility preparation, as well as assessing snow conditions.  Vehicle access to Logan Pass from the east side of the park is scheduled to be available June 19 due to road rehabilitation work. 

Services at Logan Pass will include restroom facilities and potable water.  The Logan Pass Visitor Center will not be open until June 19.  At that time it will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., including a bookstore managed by the Glacier National Park Conservancy.  

There are two areas along the west side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road near Rim Rock, just below Oberlin Bend, that visitors will need to drive with caution.  Approximately 200 feet of masonry guard walls were destroyed by avalanches this past winter and temporary barriers have been installed creating a narrow two-lane roadway.

Through June 19, crews will be working near Triple Arches, located approximately two miles below Logan Pass on the west side.  One-lane traffic will be implemented during this time.  Flaggers will direct traffic during the day and traffic control lights will be used nights and weekends.  Crews will be completing some of the detail masonry work on the footing areas. 

Visitors will discover a snow-covered landscape at Logan Pass. Cold temperatures and wind, as well as icy conditions, may be encountered. Be aware of snow walls along the Going-to-the-Sun Road and hazardous snow bridges near the Big Drift. Standing or walking on snow along the road is strongly discouraged.

Trails near Logan Pass will be covered in snow and visitors should exercise caution when hiking. Be aware of unseen holes in the snow and snow bridges that exist. Avoid crossing steep, snow-covered slopes where a fall could be disastrous. Visitors should have the appropriate equipment and skills if hiking on snow.

The Highline Trail from Logan Pass is closed due to snow conditions.

Click here for current status reports on park trails.

Grizzly bear researchers working near Sullivan Lake

WILDLIFE — Federal grizzly bear researchers are working near the Salmo-Priest Wilderness to trap and fit GPS collars on grizzly bears.

The researchers also are trying to get DNA samples from other bears to help determine the number of grizzlies in the Idaho-Washington Selkirk Mountains.

"No captures and no mortality to report as yet this season," said Wayne Kasworm, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service research leader based in Libby.

"The trap crew is working around Sullivan Lake area and we have several people out setting up corrals with trail cameras to try to snag hair and get pictures of bears throughout the recovery area. 

"The trap crew will probably move into the Priest Lake basin during June."

Last summer, the crew caught and collared one adult male grizzly bear.  

The trap team also captured 10 black bears (7 males and 3 females) that were ear tagged and released at the site of capture.

The study has collared 6 grizzly bears (1 male and 5 females), although one female's collar detached for recovery last fall. That collar had been on the bear since 2012. 

The collars are programmed to detach as they reach the limits of their batteries. Researchers can then restore an expensive collar and reuse it rather than have it uselessly dangling around a bear's neck.

The research is a joint effort with British Columbia, in cooperation with the states of Washington and Idaho.  Canada researchers worked in the Selkirks north of Highway 3 last year and collared 9 grizzly bears (7 males and 2 females).

Kasworm is monitoring those bears, too, as part of this project to peg grizzly population trends.

Video: People crazy about getting bear photos

WILDLIFE WATCHING — I'll refrain from commenting on this widely seen recent video of tourists crowding around a Yellowstone Park black bear sow and her three cubs.  Until park staff ordered the visitors to their vehicles, the bear had a hard time finding an escape route. No one was hurt in this case, but….

OK, I'll say one thing:  This is more evidence that humans continue to be stupid about wildlife.

Outdoor writer Brett French of the Billings Gazette reports:

Tourists near Gardiner got an up-close reminder about why it's best to keep your distance from wildlife.

Bob Gibson, who works for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, shot a photo in Yellowstone National Park on Wednesday evening, May 6, of a sow black bear and her three cubs caught on a bridge over the Yellowstone River, between Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming, and Cooke City.

Gibson was with videographer Winston Greely, who shot video of the encounter.

As FWP wrote, "Luckily, no one was hurt and these bears made it safely back to the forest."

Second black bear in a week removed from Five Mile area

WILDLIFE — A young black bear was captured in the Five Mile Area of Spokane Saturday, less than a week after a nuisance bear was killed by wildlife officials to protect the neighborhood.

After receiving complaints for homeowners, the second black bear was removed from the same area over the weekend and relocated to southern Pend Oreille County, said Madonna Luers, department spokeswoman.

Officer Mike Sprecher received a call about the second bear on Friday, May 1, and set a live barrel trap in the Lloyd Charles neighborhood on Saturday. By  about 8:15 p.m. Saturday that bear, estimated to be about the same age but slightly smaller than the first bear, was in the trap and on its way to a remote release site, Luers said. 

On April 27, a particularly troublesome bear was shot and killed in the Five Mile-Waikiki area by wildlife officers after more than two weeks of attempts to live-trap or tree the animal with with hounds so it could be tranquilized and relocated.

The second bear's willingness to be trapped gives it a second chance at being wild.

Two questions:

  • Has the bear been habituated to human food to the point that it will become a problem to someone else?
  • Is somebody in the Five Mile area continuing in to feed wildlife or leave out garbage in a way that's attracting bears?

Maybe that leads to a third question:

  • Is it time to ding the bell of people clueless about living with wildlife and saddle them with the cost of tranquilizing and relocating bears that become a problem because of human negligence?

Nuisance black bear killed in Spokane’s Five Mile area

WILDLIFE — A black bear that has been causing problems from patios and garbage bins to chicken coops in the Five Mile Area was killed by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officers today, April 27.

The young bear was killed with the help of houndsmen in a six-hour mission — the third attempt in a week.

"It had been causing a lot of problems for quite a while and we've been trying to catch it since about April 10," said  Capt. Dan Rahn, the department's head enforcement official in Spokane.

The bear had evaded traps and would not go up a tree when tracked by hounds, making it a difficult task to capture the animal and reducing the options officials had for dealing with the nuisance bear, he said.

Safety to the public is a key factor in when, where and how wildlife officers ultimately deal with a large potentially dangerous problem animal, whether it's a bear or a moose.

"We had an opportunity to euthanize it today, so we took it," Rahn said.

State’s first Karelian bear dog retiring after 12 years

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — The first Karelian bear dog used to help manage conflicts with bears and other potentially dangerous wildlife in Washington state is retiring after 12 years of service.

Mishka, enlisted for duty by a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist in 2003, is retiring after helping to resolve hundreds of tense situations with bears, cougars and other wildlife.

Mishka has worked with department enforcement officer Bruce Richards in the Puget Sound region since 2007, when the dog's original owner/handler, Rocky Spencer, died in a helicopter accident.

Spencer, a carnivore specialist, acquired Mishka as a pup from the Wind River Bear Institute in Montana, where Karelian bear dogs are bred and trained in the centuries-old tradition of hunters and farmers in Finland and western Russia. 

The black and white dogs, averaging 40 to 65 pounds, are instinctively bold with bears and can be trained to track, help capture and deter them from returning to places where they can get in trouble with humans.

Using a technique called a "hard release," Richards has worked side-by-side with Mishka to chase and harass bears after they have been released from a trap in order to re-instill their natural fear of humans. Richards estimates that at least 80 percent of bears trapped and released this way avoid becoming "repeat offenders" that may ultimately be killed.

Richards, who is also retiring this spring after 41 years with the agency, says Mishka solves more bear problems in a year than most officers can in a career.

"I am very proud to have been a part of this innovative way to address human-wildlife conflicts that helps both bears and people and builds teamwork between our enforcement and wildlife programs," Richards said.

WDFW now uses five other Karelians to haze bears, assist in law-enforcement investigations, locate injured and orphaned wildlife, and help educate the public about ways to avoid conflicts with wildlife. Three of those dogs are used by officers in western Washington, and two others are used by bear and cougar biologist Rich Beausoleil of Wenatchee.  

Mishka will be honored at a ceremony Thursday, March 19, in Kennewick.

Watch the video below to see how officers use dogs and noise in a "hard release" to deter bears from becoming habitual troublemakers.

This video (below) features veteran bear researcher Carrie Hunt in Montana with footage of the dogs being trained and in use in the field on bears.

Bears leaving dens early; precautions advised

WILDLIFE — Bears are on the move early this year, lured from their winter dens by unseasonably warm weather.

  Bear activity has been reported in recent weeks from the Washington Coast east to Yellowstone National Park.

"Black bears usually start making appearances in mid-to-late April, but warm weather can cause them to stir earlier," said Rich Beausoleil, bear and cougar specialist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Black bears are hungry when they emerge from their dens, because they lose up to half of their body weight during hibernation."

Natural foods are scarce this early in the year, so bears often start looking for the easiest source of high-protein food, he said.

People living in and at the edge of bear country can reduce the chance of attracting bear problems by securing garbage cans, removing backyard bird seed and keeping pet food indoors.

"Situations involving bears that have learned to associate food sources with people often end badly for the bear," Beausoleil said.

Two state laws prohibit leaving food or food waste in places where it can attract bears and other wild carnivores. Unintentionally or "negligently" feeding bears can bring a fine of $87 while the fine for intentional feeding can be as much as $1,000.

Human conflicts with bears tend to subside by mid-summer, when berries and other natural foods become available, and then pick up again in fall before the animals enter their dens, Beausoleil said.

Steps to prevent conflicts with bears include:

  • Never intentionally feed bears or other wild animals.
  • Keep garbage cans in a garage or another secure area until collection day.
  • Remove pet food from areas accessible to wildlife.
  • Take down bird feeders until winter.
  • Thoroughly clean barbecue grills after each use.
  • When camping, thoroughly clean all cooking utensils after use and seal uneaten food in airtight containers that are stored in bear-proof canisters away from sleeping areas.

Read more information on avoiding conflicts with bears.

Grizzly bears on verge of official recovery in Montana

THREATENED SPECIES — As wildlife officials put their finger to the wind on the potential for restoring grizzly bears to the North Cascades, Montana is getting ready to claim Endangered Species success.

National forests in Montana prepare for delisting of grizzly bears
The grizzly bear population in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem in Northwest Montana has been increasing by 4 percent annually for the past decade, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working on a plan to remove federal protections from that population of bears, and on Friday, the five national forests in that area of Montana released a draft forest plan amendment to ensure that personnel in the Flathead, Lolo, Bitterroot, Lewis and Clark and Helena national forests are all on the same page for grizzly bear management.
— Missoulian

Grizzly bears in Cascades generate mixed emotions

Updated March 10, 2015.

THREATENED SPECIES — While there's support for reintroducing grizzly bears into the North Cascades to spark a regional recovery effort, the sentiment certainly isn't unanimous at the public meetings that are being conducted in communities along Washington's iconic mountain range.

Alberta grizzlies fond of highway crossings for wildlife

WILDLIFE — Here's more support for highway crossings for wildlife that are showing up in projects around Washington and Idaho:

Research finds grizzly bears prefer overpasses in park in Alberta
Bow Valley-based scientist Tony Clevenger has released his findings of 17 years of study on grizzly bear use of overpasses and underpasses in Banff National Park, which revealed that grizzly bears generally prefer overpasses to underpasses.
— Rocky Mountain Outlook

Comments sought on restoring grizzlies to North Cascades

WILDLIFE — A tentative federal proposal to restore grizzly bears in the North Cascades will be explained at public meetings next month.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service are taking public comments for an environmental impact statement before deciding whether to take an active role in restoring the grizzly bear to the North Cascades Ecosystem.

The first meeting is 5 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. on March 3 at the Red Barn in Winthrop. Other meetings will follow in Okanogan, Wenatchee, Cle Elum, Seattle and Bellingham.

Online comments will be accepted through March 26 at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/NCEG

The grizzly bear was federally listed as a threatened species in the lower 48 United States in 1975. The species was listed as endangered by the state of Washington in 1980.

“The Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan calls on us to fully consider the restoration of the grizzly bear in the North Cascades, and this process will ensure we solicit public input before putting any plan into action,” said Robyn Thorson, FWS Pacific regional director.

Several conservation groups already have indicated their support for grizzly restoration.

Fewer than 20 grizzlies are known to roam the North Cascades ecosystem encompasses 9,800 square miles in the United States and another 3,800 square miles in British Columbia.  The United States portion includes North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake and Lake Chelan national recreation areas plus the Okanogan-Wenatchee and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie national forests. 

A few grizzly bears have recently been sighted in the Canadian part of the ecosystem, but no grizzlies have been confirmed in the United States portion since a hiker documented one with a photo in 2010.

Details on the public open-house meetings:

Winthrop    March 3, 5-7:30 pm
    Red Barn Upper Meeting Room
    51 N. Hwy 20
    Winthrop, WA 98862

Okanogan    March 4, 5-7:30 pm
    Okanogan PUD Meeting Room
    1331 2nd Ave N
    Okanogan, WA 98840

Wenatchee    March 5, 6-8:30 pm
    Chelan County PUD Auditorium
    327 N. Wenatchee Ave.
    Wenatchee, WA 98801

Cle Elum    March 9, 5-7:30 pm
    Putnam Centennial Center Meeting Room
    719 East 3rd Street
    Cle Elum, WA 98922

Seattle    March 10, 5-7:30 pm
    Seattle Pacific University Bertona Classroom 1
    103 West Bertona
    Seattle, WA 98119

Bellingham    March 11, 5-7:30 pm
    Bellingham Central Library Lecture Room
    210 Central Avenue
    Bellingham, WA 98227

How warm is it? First griz emerges from den to see

WILDLIFE WATCHING —  The first confirmed report of grizzly bear activity this year in Yellowstone occurred on Monday, Feb. 9, 2015, as a grizzly bear that had emerged from its den was observed scavenging on a bison carcass in the central portion of the park, the Billings Gazette reports.

Unseasonably warm temperatures in the region have created a new normal:  Snowmobilers are being warned to carry bear spray.

With bears emerging from hibernation, hikers, skiers and snowshoers also are advised to stay in groups of three or more, make noise on the trail and carry bear spray.

Bears begin looking for food soon after they emerge from their dens. They are attracted to elk and bison that have died during the winter. Carcasses are an important enough food source that bears will sometimes react aggressively when surprised while feeding on them.

The bear that left its den this week is at the very early range of bear emergence, according to published research on bear denning in Yellowstone:

Earliest den emergence for males occurred during the first week of February, with 90% of males out of dens by the fourth week of April. Earliest den emergence for females occurred during the third week of March; by the first week of May, 90% of females had emerged.

Male bears emerged from dens earlier than females. Denning period differed among classes and averaged 171 days for females that emerged from dens with cubs, 151 days for other females, and 131 days for males. Known pregnant females tended to den at higher elevations and, following emergence, remained at higher elevation until late May.

Surveys: St. Joe elk show signs of increase

HUNTING — Surveys conducted this winter showed a substantial increase in elk calf-cow ratios for elk in portions of North Idaho as the region's elk seem to be digging out of six-year slump.

Up to just a few years ago, the Panhandle Region was among the very few places in the United States that had a general either-sex elk hunt open to hunters with modern centerfire rifles. 

In Washington, Montana and most other states, hunters had to draw a "cow tag" in order to participate in controlled hunts for antlerless elk or participate hunts with weapon restrictions such as archery-only seasons. 

Two hard winters starting in 2007 delivered a blow to the region's big game. In 2012, low calf-cow ratios caused Idaho wildlife managers to eliminate the general either-sex elk hunt. 

That got hunters' attention.

"The low ratios were not caused by a single issue, but rather a combination of factors," said Wayne Wakkinen, Idaho Department of Fish and Game regional wildlife manager. "These include declining habitat quality, predation by black bears and mountain lions and wolves, changes in the ability of people to access areas and technology that can increase hunting success rates."

Winter severity and summer drought also are factors, he said.

A mix of factors can create a cascading effect.  "For example, declining habitat quality can result in cows in poor body condition," he said. "This in turn can result in lower birth weights of calves, something that’s been shown to be an important factor in calf survival.  The condition of a cow elk can affect the ability to survive severe winters and to escape predators."

With no single cure-all prescription available for Panhandle elk woes, Wakkinen said the agency addressed the elk decline in several steps:

  • Eliminating the general season on antlerless elk.  An unpopular move, but it increased cow survival to preserve breeding stock necessary to rebuild herds.
  • Liberalizing predator seasons.  Black bear and mountain lion seasons have been lengthened and in some units hunters can use electronic calls and a second tag.  Wolf hunting and trapping seasons have been lengthened region-wide and hunters and trappers can take multiple wolves.
  • Working to improve the quality of elk habitat. 

"Elk prefer younger forests that provide nutritious browse," Wakkinen said. "The 1910 fire and large fires in the 1920s and 1930s created expansive shrubfields that were conducive to a growing elk herd.  That, coupled with widespread predator reductions, resulted in a very robust elk population starting in the 1950s."

However, those forests have matured. They don’t provide enough nutrition and in some area's they're so thick that elk become more vulnerable to predation. 

The agency is working with the U.S. Forest service and other major landowners to give moose,elk and deer more consideration in forest management, he said. Prescribed fire and well-designed timber harvest are key to the effort.

Wakkinen said he sees progress. 

"During winter surveys in the Panhandle, IDFG uses a ratio of 30 calves per 100 cows as a yardstick for a healthy elk herd.  As recently as 2008, ratios were as high as 43 to100 in Unit 7 in the St Joe drainage, but ratios declined following the harsh winters of 2007-09. 

"This isn’t unusual following a hard winter, but typically the ratio bounces back within a couple of years.  Unfortunately, calf-cow ratios remained low in Unit 7, with winter surveys finding 9, 12 and 13 calves per 100 cows in 2012, 2013, and 2014."

The elk apparently were trapped what's known as a “predator pit,” he said.

For example, Central Montana pronghorn populations devastated by bad winters and disease have been struggling for years to recover partly because of a predator pit. Coyotes apparently are keying on the fewer number of does when they're dropping their fawns. In more normal times, say, 100 does might scatter to drop their fawns. Coyotes might sniff out and kill 20 fawns during the brief period when they're worth the effort to hunt instead of focusing on rodents. But if the herd has been reduced to 30 does having fawns, coyotes may still kill 20, but it's a much higher percentage of the crop and the herd cannot grow.

In the case of North Idaho elk, numbers were reduced by the winters, but predator numbers remained high because prolific white-tailed deer recovered quickly provided enough prey to support the bears, cougars and wolves. "The high number of predators can take enough elk to keep elk numbers low," Wakkinen said.

But surveys conducted this winter gave wildlife managers encouragement.

Ratios in Unit 7 above Avery averaged 30 calves per 100 cows and Unit 6 around Calder had more than 40 calves per 100 cows, Wakkinen said.

"Just like the cause of the decline, it is probably a combination of things," he said. Three consecutive mild winters certainly helped and  liberal hunting seasons on predators and have likely helped elk escape from the predator pit, he added. 

"If the current conditions remain the same or improve, we may see a continued improvement in the St Joe elk herds."

The Fish and Game Department ha a constitutional obligation to maintain native wildlife populations in the state, including predators, Wakkinen said. But the agency "will take steps to reduce predator numbers when they negatively impact elk or deer populations."

"Predation management is expensive and labor intensive and weather events are out of our control," he said. "Long term improvements in the quality of elk habitat are an essential part of the equation for insuring the continued existence of healthy Panhandle elk herds."

Florida’s largest black bear outweighed two Seahawks tackles

WILDLIFE — Florida wildlife officers trapped and killed the biggest Florida black bear on record Sunday in Longwood.The mammoth animal, which had been roaming Seminole County neighborhoods and causing safety concerns for more than a month, weighed 740 pounds — that's heavier than the combined weight of Seattle Seahawks offensive linemen Alvin Bailey (G, 320 pounds) and (Justin Britt (T, 325).

According to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, the new heavyweight is more than 100 pounds heavier than the previous Florida record, a 620-pound black bear caught in Paisley in 2013.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, The Longwood bear most likely beefed up on a buffet of curbside garbage in addition to the normal  diet of nuts, berries and sabal-palm hearts.

Residents had complained for weeks about a large beast with white chest markings that had been wandering through their yards and streets. State wildlife officials are taking a more aggressive approach to bear conflicts follows the mauling of two Seminole County women and a teen-age girl in the Panhandle during the past 13 months, the injury of a 68-year-old woman in Heathrow and the growing number of human-bear encounters.

But this one was a whopper. Adult male black bears weigh on average about 250 pounds, though they range between 125 and 600 pounds, according to the American Bear Association. Females are usually smaller, though they can tip the scales at 300 pounds or more. The bears in the Seminole County incidents were smaller females with cubs.

Man fined $30K for shooting grizzlies

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The Montana man's excuse that grizzlies were a threat to his grandchildren didn't fly in court.

Everett Skunkcap, 75, accused of killing three grizzly bears near his Browning home last summer has been ordered to pay $30,000 in restitution.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office says Skunkcap was sentenced in connection with his guilty plea to one count of taking a threatened species.

Skunkcap said during a hearing earlier this month that he killed all three bears in defense of his grandchildren who were 100 feet away at the time.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John T. Johnston also gave Skunkcap a six-month jail term, which was suspended on the condition that he pay the restitution in a timely manner.

Bear shooting cases in court; Whitman wolf case still pending

WILDLIFE — Do prosecutors see endangered species protections for wolves in Washington differently than the laws protecting grizzlies in Montana?  It's too early to say, but…

The Whitman County prosecutor's office reports today that no decision has been made on whether to prosecute the case of a man, described as a local farmer, who chased a wolf in a vehicle on Oct. 12 and shot it to death. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife police turned over the evidence in the case to Prosecutor Denis Tracy on Nov. 19.

Meanwhile in Montana, a Bigfork-area resident, faces charges filed on Dec. 23 that he killed three grizzly bears in May allegedly because they were messing with his chickens.

On another level, the alleged ringleader in what’s been called the largest illegal black bear poaching case in Montana history was charged on Nov. 25 with five felonies.  Black bears do not have the specials protections afforded grizzlies, but big-game hunting rules still apply.

James “Jimmy” Harrison, 61, of Darby, and two other Ravalli County men were originally charged with misdemeanors for illegally killing nine black bears with the aid of bait last July.  The county prosecutor upgraded the charges on Harrison after a review of the case.

 

Grizzly bear range expansion debated in Idaho

WILDLIFE — Should grizzly bears be relocated to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness?  

Idaho ponders the possibility.

Idahoans face decisions on just where they want to see grizzly bears

There are an estimated 700 grizzly bears roaming the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and next year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will again propose removing federal protections for those bears and transferring management authority to the state. The move will again meet resistance. On the other hand, the federal agency has been petitioned to reintroduce bears in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Central Idaho, a move the state wildlife agency has said it will resist.

—Idaho Statesman

Smith River floaters not ready to be bear savvy

CAMPING — Just about every outdoor park  and forest in North America that has bears requires bear-resistant camping methods. 

But even in the wake of having to kill eight bears that had become camp robbers, Montana lags…

Montana Parks Board won't require bear-proof food containers on Smith River
Over the past two years, eight black bears were killed along the Smith River corridor due to conflicts with people floating the river, prompting the staff of the agency to recommend that campers and boaters use bear-proof containers, a recommendation the Montana State Parks and Recreation Board rejected. Instead the board ordered parks staff to come up with other recommendations to keep bears from being attracted to camps and stops along the river. The board will take up before permits to float the river are issued next spring.

Man killed by bear likely interrupted feeding

BEAR ATTACKS — Hikers and hunters who venture into bear country can benefit from reading investigations of bear attacks.  Here's a report on the most recent investigation of a bear mauling in the Northern Rockies.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A panel of wildlife experts has concluded that a Utah man mauled to death in a remote area of northwest Wyoming in September likely happened upon a bear feeding on a deer.

“We think the attack was a combination of two things — that the bear was on a carcass and the bear was surprised at close range,” Chris Servheen, grizzly recovery coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a member of the panel, said Friday. “Either one of those types of encounters can provoke a charge and an attack by the bear.”

The panel found evidence of both grizzly bears and black bears at the site where Adam Stewart, 31, of Virgin, Utah, was killed on Sept. 4. In addition, the area where the attack occurred is forested and hilly, and Stewart may not have seen the bear until he was 15 to 20 feet away, it said.

“It’s not real easy to see in that area,” Servheen said.

They can’t determine what kind of bear killed him because of the condition of his body and the presence of both kinds of bears in the area, Servheen said. Stewart’s body wasn’t found until eight days after the mauling in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, bears had fed on his body and his remains were mixed in with deer remains.

Stewart was employed by a Boise, Idaho, company, Nature’s Capital, which the U.S. Forest Service had hired to conduct vegetation surveys.

He was working alone and didn’t have bear spray or a firearm with him.

While it’s impossible to know whether bear spray would have prevented the attack, Servheen said he was surprised that Stewart didn’t have bear spray with him in an area known to be grizzly bear habitat.

“We recommend to everybody that they carry bear spray and we also recommend that people don’t hike alone,” he said.

It is believed that Stewart was an experienced backcountry hiker.

Investigators determined that Stewart was attacked and killed on the day he hiked into the forest. Evidence, which includes a time stamped photograph from Stewart’s camera, indicates he had set up camp and was hiking to a research plot site 3 miles away when the encounter with the bear occurred.

Study: Polar bears decline 40 percent in a decade

ENDANGERED SPECIES — The heat is on this indicator species. Who's next?

Study finds 40% decline in polar bear numbers in E. Alaska, W. Canada
A study done by researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and Environment Canada, as well as other groups, followed polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea from 2001 to 2010, and found that numbers declined 40 percent during that decade.
—Los Angeles Times

Bedtime coming soon for grizzly cub

WILDLIFE WATCHING — This grizzly bear cub photographed last month by Montana outdoor photographer Jaimie Johnson appears to have had a great first year in the field.

In a few weeks, depending on the weather, this cub, its sibling and mother will be snuggling into a den for a long winter's nap.

Grizzly cubs usually spend three years with their mothers before heading off on their own.

Says Johnson:

We were able to spend some time this fall with a sow grizzly and her two cubs.

It was a lot of fun watching mom teach the two cubs how to eat berries from the bushes.

This image is one of the cubs walking through the berries.

Glacier Park grizzly shooter case dismissed

WILDLIFE — The case against a Texas man accused of illegally discharging a firearm in Glacier National Park this summer, when he shot a grizzly bear he said was charging him, went no further than his not-guilty plea in a federal court late last month, the Missoulian reports

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has dismissed the charge against 57-year-old Brian D. Murphy.

The charge was dismissed with prejudice, meaning a final determination has been made based on the merits of the case. Murphy cannot be re-charged at a later date, reports Vince Devlin.

Here's the rest of Devlin's report;

Murphy’s attorney, Jason T. Holden of Great Falls, called it a “perfect scenario to have a case dismissed with prejudice.”

“The government did the right thing because Mr. Murphy did the right thing,” Holden said, adding that Murphy “had every right to act in defense of his life.”

Holden described his client as a part-time Montana resident who spends summers in the state, and is “an avid hiker and photographer with great respect for our national parks, their resources and wildlife.”

Murphy, he said, did not fire his .357 revolver until the charging bear – a grizzly, Holden said DNA tests later confirmed – was 7 to 10 feet away, and not until bear spray discharged when the animal was 15 to 25 feet away failed to deter it.

The wounded bear was never located. DNA samples were obtained from blood and fur at the scene.

***

Murphy was hiking the Mount Brown Lookout Trail, one of Glacier’s most challenging, on Saturday, July 26.

Although he was hiking alone, which park officials advise against, Murphy was wearing bear bells and packing bear spray, Holden said, and also “yelping” to warn any bears in the area of his approach, and because he was aware other hikers were behind him on the trail.

“When Mr. Murphy first saw the bear it was running down a hill toward the other hikers,” Holden said. “He yelled, ‘Bear!’ to warn them, and as soon as he yelled, the bear turned and came straight at him.”

Murphy first discharged his bear spray using his left hand, and when that didn’t stop the animal, fired with the .357 in his right hand, according to Holden.

“The bear fell back and was motionless,” Holden said. Murphy “withdrew and double-timed it out of there, taking the two hikers who were behind him with him. He stopped everyone else on the trail, too, told the first ranger he came to what had happened, and fully and voluntarily cooperated with rangers.”

When rangers arrived at the scene the grizzly was gone, but there was evidence it had been wounded. Murphy turned his revolver over to rangers, who reported it contained five unspent rounds and one spent casing.

***

While a 2010 federal law makes it legal to carry firearms in national parks, it remains illegal to discharge one in many of them, including Glacier.

Murphy was not charged by park rangers with the misdemeanor, which carries a $500 fine, until nearly two months later.

Holden appeared on his behalf in West Glacier on Sept. 26 to enter the not-guilty plea in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Strong.

“I informed the court we would raise the affirmative defense of self-defense, and after we presented our case to the government, they agreed it was an appropriate case to dismiss with prejudice,” Holden said.

Michael S. Lahr, an assistant U.S. attorney in Helena, filed the motion to dismiss the charge with prejudice. Strong granted the motion Thursday.

Lahr did not return a message Tuesday seeking comment.

“In a situation such as Mr. Murphy’s, where his life was in mortal danger, he has a right to defend his life,” Holden said. “That is not against the law, and that’s why the government dismissed this case.”

“I don’t want to give the wrong impression,” he went on. “You can’t willy-nilly fire a gun in a national park – you can’t. You can’t if a bear is 50 feet from you. But this was a full, straight-on charge and attack.”

No slack cut for grizzly-shooting wildlife staffer

HUNTING — Ouch! Shooting a protected grizzly bear can be costly no matter who you are.

Wyoming wildlife officer fined, ordered to pay $10K for shooting grizzly
Luke Ellsbury, a Wyoming Fish and Game employee who mistakenly shot a grizzly bear last year was ordered by a state judge to pay $10,000 in restitution for the illegal killing, as well as $260 to pay a fine and court costs.

Name that bear: contest at Idaho zoo seeks to name grizzly

WILDLIFE — The Pocatello Zoo is holding the contest to name a grizzly bear that was moved into the facility after it became too accustomed roaming around rural residences in Wyoming.

The 2-year-old female grizzly that was recently relocated to the zoo from the Shoshone National Forest.

Submit names by Oct. 12 to pocatellozoosociety@gmail.com or call the Zoo at (208) 234-6264.

Zoo staff will choose three finalist names from the submissions, and the public will have a chance to vote online, via phone and at ZooBoo starting Oct 13. Voters are required to donate a minimum of $1 along with their vote. The winning name will be the one that gets the most donations and will be announced on Oct. 27.

The grizzly bear is currently in quarantine at the zoo, but will eventually be on exhibit with the zoo’s matriarch bear, Stripes.

“We are thrilled to be able to give this girl a home,” zoo administrator, Peter Pruett said. “She needed to be relocated and we have a beautiful home for her here at the Pocatello Zoo.

Videos capture bears with cat-scratch fever

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WILDLIFE WATCHING  — The trail cam video of an Okanogan County black bear turning a scented tree into a massage parlor (at right) has been amusing thousands of viewers since it was posted this week by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Scott Fitkin.

If you like the video posted here, you'll LOVE this video of GRIZZLY BEARS scratching their way into ecstasy — complete with music — in Banff National Park, Alberta.

Anti-hunters twist bear mauling into propaganda

WILDLIFE — An anti-hunting group says it has put up a billboard in the hometown of a Washington bowhunter recently bitten by a bear with the underlying message — "You had it coming."

While hunting deer with his son, Jerry Hause of Longview was treed and bitten in the foot and leg by a black bear over the Labor Day weekend after he apparently got between a sow and cub while bowhunting in the area.

Always game for a distasteful headline-grabbing jab at hunters, PETA apparently paid to place a billboard in Longview that shows a bear pursuing a hunter up a tree above the words "Payback Is Hell. Leave Animals Alone."

"No one wants to be treated like a living target or to suffer and die—not humans or any other animals," says PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. "PETA's billboard is a reminder that hunting means causing fear, pain, suffering, and death, and there's nothing 'sporting' about it."

On the other hand, God designed life on earth with predators and prey.  For example, deer and elk suffer fear and pain as they are ripped, disemboweled and killed by wolves or coyotes. At least human hunters strive for a quick, clean kill.

It's shocking, but true.  Real life isn't like Disneyland.

Bowhunter treed, bitten by black bear

HUNTING — A Western Washington archery hunter is recovering from puncture wounds to his leg after startling a black bear during a hunt on Monday.

Jerry Hause, 60, spooked the bear while hunting near Longview and figured his best option as the bear charged was to climb a tree.

The rest of the story is told in detail in the following report, by Shari Phiel of the Longview Daily News:

LONGVIEW, Wash. (AP) — When Longview resident Jerry Hause headed out for Monday’s bow hunting opener, he never imagined he would end up in a fight for his life with a black bear.

Hause and his son Jeffrey, 26, drove into a remote, wooded area in the upper Abernathy Creek area about eight miles west of Longview in hopes of bagging deer. Hause, 60, has been hunting for decades, but he’s been a bow-hunter for only four.

Hause was about to start driving game toward his son, who was waiting in a tree, when the unexpected happened.

“I’d already hiked about three miles so I sat down to take a break before I tried to push some (game) back to him. I took my backpack off and sat my bow down and as I was sitting there I started looking around and … I saw a black head which I thought was a bear,” Hause said from his home Thursday. “I’ve hunted this area for 30-plus years and I’ve never seen a bear up there.”

Hause said the bear appeared to be a cub and was 80 to 100 yards away. Knowing knew it’s unwise to come between a cub and its mother, he looked for a way to leave the area.

“I stood up and in one motion that bear jumped out of the creek it was in and was on level ground with me. And as soon as it was on level ground it was on a dead run after me,” he said.

He doesn’t know if the bear was the mother or the same bear he’d thought was a cub.

Hause said he knew he wouldn’t be able to pick and aim his bow, and he wasn’t confident he could drop the 250- to 300-pound animal. His only choice, he said, was to climb the tree he had been resting against.

“I knew the tree was right there, so I headed up that to get far enough up the tree that the bear couldn’t get me,” Hause said.

Hause climbed several feet up into the tree. The bear followed, but Hause said he thought he was out of the bear’s reach until he looked down just as the bear bit into his left leg.

“It totally amazes me how fast that bear got on me. In three seconds it was on me,” he said.

Hause said the bear also tried to grab him with one of its paws and left claw marks on his leg. He said he realized he couldn’t climb any higher, so he grabbed a branch above him and held on.

“I was thinking, ‘If it gets me out of this tree I’m a dead man.’ It was mad, it was growling. It was serious about what it was going to do,” Hause said.

Hause pulled himself and kicked out at the bear with his other foot. Having heard on wildlife shows that sharks will sometimes stop an attack after being hit in the nose, Hause aimed for the bear’s nose. The maneuver seemed to work. The bear let go and dropped to the ground and then moved off.

After waiting 10 minutes, Hause said he got out of the tree and began hiking back to his truck. Once he got to an area where he could make a call on his cell phone, he alerted his son and called his wife, who came and took him to PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center. He was treated and released and is expected to make a full recovery from his puncture and scratch wounds.

Washington Fish and Wildlife Sgt. Bob Weaver said the chances of encountering a bear in the woods, let alone being attacked by one, are very slim.

“This is are very rare incident. It’s happened before, but it’s a very rare thing to happen,” Weaver said.

Statewide, there are an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 black bears. Weaver didn’t know how many bears there are in the Cowlitz County area.

“Typically bears are very afraid of people. If they know people are around, they tend to run the other way. Of course when you get a sow with cubs, the motherly instinct is to protect their cubs, so you have a higher possibility of something like that happening, especially if you get between the sow and the cubs,” Weaver said.

Officials initially planned to track down and euthanize the bear, Hause said. He said he talked them out of it because it’s in a remote area and may have just been protecting its young.

Weaver said wildlife agents plan to evaluate the attack site to see if there is evidence of cubs or a kill in the area that the bear may have been guarding. Hause said he’s willing to go along — if they’re armed. He said he also plans to carry a pistol with him when he goes hunting from now on.

Hause, a retired building analyst for the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, said he doesn’t blame the bear for what happened.

“It either had cubs out there or I was threatening its food. It’s bear country. They live in the woods. I don’t.”