Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Grizzly bear spotted north of Chewelah after being relocated last year

A grizzly got into a chicken coop near Chewelah Sunday.  (Courtesy of Stevens County Sheriff's Office)

A grizzly bear that was relocated last fall after getting into trouble outside of Colville is back on the west side of the Pend Oreille River.

The Stevens County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post Friday that a radio-collared grizzly bear was spotted breaking into a chicken coop north of Chewelah, Washington, on Sunday.

A few days later, officials confirmed that it was the same bear that was trapped in the Onion Creek area of Stevens County in September after repeatedly getting into chicken feed and eating chickens. The bear was relocated to the Selkirk Mountains.

Now it’s back in Stevens County, and wildlife officials are monitoring its movements closely.

Mike Kuttel Jr., the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s eastern region manager, said there are no immediate plans to trap the bear.

“We’re honestly just in observation mode right now,” Kuttel said. “He hasn’t been aggressive toward people or anything. He’s just looking for a food reward and doing what bears do.”

Grizzly bears once roamed much of the West, including Washington, but most were killed through hunting, trapping and government-sponsored eradication efforts. The bears in the Lower 48 states have been protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1975 after decadeslong declines in their numbers and distribution.

Their numbers have recovered significantly since then. Biologists estimate there are about 2,000 grizzlies in the Lower 48, with most of them living in and around Glacier and Yellowstone national parks.

Smaller populations exist in the Cabinet and Yaak mountains in western Montana, and in the Selkirks in North Idaho, southern British Columbia and northeast Washington.

The Selkirk population is the one closest to Stevens County, but most observations of the bears in the U.S. portion of the range have come on the east side of the Pend Oreille River. Wayne Kasworm, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grizzly recovery biologist, told The Spokesman-Review in October that the agency had recorded few confirmed grizzly sightings in the mountains west of the river.

Kasworm did not return a phone call seeking comment before deadline Friday.

The bear that got into a chicken coop this week is a young male. After it was captured last fall in the Onion Creek area north of Colville, it was fitted with a radio collar and released in a remote area north of Sullivan Lake.

It did some wandering after it was released, but as recently as May, it was believed to have been in the Selkirks. During an early May meeting of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s subcommittee for the Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk ecosystems, Kasworm said the bear had been spending time about 10 miles southeast of Sullivan Lake.

The Stevens County Sheriff’s Office said in its Facebook post on Friday that the bear returned to Stevens County in “late spring,” but that its ransacking of a chicken coop Sunday was the only incident it had caused .

The post also said the bear is wary of people and is looking for easy food sources.

Kuttel said the sighting should be a reminder to people that bears are out and about.

“It’s not something to be alarmed about, but just be aware,” Kuttel said.

Officials are advising people to be aware that Stevens County is bear country, and that black bears are also active this time of year.

They are urging people to store attractants like garbage and livestock feed properly, and to protect chickens and other animals with electric fences.

WDFW and the sheriff’s office are working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to manage the bear.

They are also encouraging people to report any grizzly sightings to either the sheriff’s office or WDFW.