A young grizzly bear has been raiding chicken coops and chasing sheep in North Idaho.
The bear may be wandering in search of food. A less than stellar huckleberry crop often pushes bears farther afield. Or, the bear is searching for a new home after being exiled by its mother. It’s also possible a growing grizzly population in the Selkirk and Cabinet mountains is pushing bears into the area.
Regardless, Idaho Fish and Game officials say the bear’s presence is a problem.
“He’s in an area where we don’t want him,” said Wayne Wakkinen, regional wildlife manager.
Idaho Fish and Game announced Tuesday that they are attempting to trap the bear. The grizzly was first spotted Saturday chasing sheep near Garwood.
Crystal Kearl lives on 10 acres of land about 2 miles south of Silverwood. On Sunday a neighbor told her a bear was in the area. Kearl assumed the neighbor meant a black bear.
“I really didn’t think twice about it,” she said. “I was standing in the dining room and at first I thought my Shetland pony had gotten out and was by the chicken run.”
It wasn’t a pony.
Instead it was a young grizzly bear. Kearl and her husband stepped onto their porch and took several videos of the bear. The bear tried to get into Kearl’s chicken coop but was distracted by the sprinkler. It spent several minutes playing with the sprinkler
Kearl’s husband fired a warning shot with his gun.
The bear didn’t flinch.
What finally scared the bear off, Kearl said, was when her son clapped loudly.
“The gun didn’t scare him,” she said. “So we started carrying around a wooden spoon and a metal bowl.”
The bear did not get into Kearl’s chicken coops, although it did break into another coop later.
Idaho game officials have set culvert traps where the bear was first seen. Culvert traps are designed to not injure the captured animals.
If the bear is captured, it will be fitted with a GPS collar and relocated, most likely to the Selkirk or Cabinet mountains, said Wakkinen. Because the bear is a federally protected species, Idaho game officials will coordinate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service.
But Wakkinen said officials are still trying to figure out where the bear is. Wakkinen wouldn’t be surprised if the bear left the area on his own.
“He really doesn’t have to move that many more miles north and he’s gong to be in the Selkirks, which is not a bad place for a bear to be,” he said.
If the bear stays in the area, Wakkinen foresees more problems.
“In the short history we have already with him he seems to have an affinity for chickens,” Wakkinen said. “Which is not a good thing.”
Grizzly cubs stay with their mothers for about 2 years.
So, it’s possible the bear in North Idaho was recently run off by its mother and is exploring.
A poor berry crop is another possible reason the bear is near Garwood.
“If it’s a really good huckleberry crop the bears just don’t move that far,” he said. “If it’s a not so good berry year we typically have a lot more black bear problems.”
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grizzly bear recovery coordinator Wayne Kasworm added that another possible reason the bear is so far out of normal grizzly habitat is because of a growing population of bears in the Selkirk and Cabinet mountains.
Kasworm estimates there are about 60 bears in the Cabinet and Yaak grizzly recovery area and about 30 bears in the United States’ portion of the Selkirk range.
Obtaining a DNA sample of the bear would allow biologists to identify exactly where the bear came from.
But he emphasized that why exactly the bear is wandering may never be known, especially if the bear is a young male.
So far the people who’ve encountered the bear have been concerned, but not overly frightened, Wakkinen said.
“A lot of people are more of the opinion that I’m hoping you’re able to trap the bear and get it out of there before it gets into more trouble,” he said.
Idaho’s black bear hunting season starts at the end of August. In October of 2015 a hunter in Wallace shot and killed a grizzly bear that had been collared and relocated to Montana.
That was a particularly dry and hot year. At the time, an Idaho state biologist said the bear was likely roaming farther afield in search of food.
Black bear hunters are expected to know the difference between legal black bears and grizzly bears before shooting.
Other examples of bears wandering great distances pepper the pages of local papers. In 2009 a grizzly bear was shot and killed near Rose Lake.
Since spotting the bear, Kearl said she’s been extra cautious when going into her yard.
“It’s kind of scary going out there because we still have the mini donkeys and ponies to feed,” she said. “My daughter really loves her chickens and she’s kind of terrified of losing them.”
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