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Sports >  Outdoors

Back-scratching grizzly spotted north of Upper Priest Lake

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 16, 2019

You know the feeling: When your back itches, you’ve gotta scratch it.

Grizzly bears are no different.

Bart George, a biologist for the Kalispel Tribe, captured the fearsome ursus arctos horribilis in a vulnerable moment: scratching its back against a tree north of Upper Priest Lake in Idaho.

The photo was taken several weeks ago by a motion-activated camera, George said. He retrieved the photo Tuesday. The photos are part of a larger U.S. Fish and Wildlife study monitoring the grizzly populations of Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk ecosystems. The Kalispel Tribe helps with some of that research.

The study uses hair traps to gather DNA from the bears. Hair traps snag bear hair on barbed wire.

“Somehow, the bear came and went without leaving any hair on the barbed wire,” George said in a message. “I didn’t check the pictures until I got back to the truck and saw that he rubbed on that tree. Now I have to hike back up there and check for hair snags there!”

Based on DNA samples taken in 2017, there are 44 bears (20 females, 24 males) in the Cabinet-Yaak system and 40 bears in the Selkirks (16 females, 24 males).

After a rather uneventful summer, grizzlies have stormed back into the public consciousness.

Four attacks in Montana dominated headlines in September. Early October snowfalls led to the deaths of five grizzlies, reported the Missoulian. That’s in addition to a grizzly killed by the state for killing cattle. All told, 38 bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem have died or been killed so far this year.

Closer to home, grizzlies were spotted near Schweitzer Mountain by U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the farthest south in the Selkirks the bears have been confirmed. And a hunter was charged in Idaho state court after apparently mistaking a grizzly for a black bear and killing it.

In Washington, the debate continued about whether to reintroduce grizzlies into the North Cascades. At a public hearing on Oct. 7, Crosscut reported that most of the 62 people who testified at the Okanogan County Fairgrounds “did not want more ‘apex predators’ in their backyard.”

As for the back-scratching bear? It’s still in the general area of the trap.

“I walked in on top of grizzly bears tracks today, so that bear is hanging around,” George said Tuesday.

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