Grizzly bears have been spotted near Idaho’s Schweitzer Mountain Resort this summer, a first for the big bruins in Idaho’s Selkirk range.
That spotting is emblematic of the larger expansion of grizzly populations in the Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk ecosystems in Idaho and Montana in 2019.
“We’re certainly getting a few more bear sightings in the Washington side of Selkirks,” said Wayne Kasworm, U.S. Fish and Wildlife grizzly manager in Libby “We’ve actually experienced some expansion on the Selkirk Crest.”
The Schweitzer sightings come on the tails of last year’s grizzly sighting west of the Pend Oreille River in Washington.
The sightings in Idaho are part and parcel of a larger expansion across the endangered species range. New government data from grizzly population monitoring show bruins in the Yellowstone area of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho expanded their range by about 1,500 square miles over the past two years, according to a May Associated Press report.
They occupy almost 27,000 square miles, a range that has grown 34 percent in the past decade.
According to 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).
The bears near Schweitzer were captured on game camera and samples of their hair were gathered in hair traps. Those samples will go through a DNA analysis, Kasworm said, to learn more specifics about them.
At the same time, Kasworm and other researchers have documented the success of the grizzly augmentation program in Montana’s Cabinet Mountains. Since 2010-11, U.S. Fish and Wildlife has relocated eight male grizzlies into the area. According to DNA samples taken in 2017, and analyzed this year, Kasworm said they were “able to determine that at least one of the males that we moved has reproduced.”
“That was a nice bit of success that we were able to see,” he said.
Also, this summer Kasworm said they relocated a female and male bear into the Western Cabinets.
“The male has moved north into the Yaak,” Kasworm said. “But the female has stayed in the West Cabinets and has basically been using an area about 10 miles north of the release site.”
Grizzly bears have been a federally protected endangered species since 1975 in the Lower 48. They are not protected in Alaska.
As they bears have expanded their range, grizzly-human interactions and conflicts have increased. This year has seen fewer sighting or conflicts, Kasworm said, likely due to a good huckleberry crop.
“Bears are occupied with eating berries,” he said. “In places that are further away.”
But as the huckleberries die off and hunters head to the hills, Kasworm said sightings and conflicts are likely to increase.
Fall is also the time when bears are actively seeking food – a phase known as hyperphagia – before they enter winter dormancy and hibernate. Traditional bear avoidance techniques for hikers, such as making noise and traveling in groups of three or more, are things hunters are unlikely to do. Hikers and hunters are advised to carry bear spray and to know how to quickly and effectively use it.
Those who see a bear should stop advancing and back away slowly. Experts advise to never run from a bear, as that may trigger a more predator-like response.
Brett French contributed to this report.
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