On the hill: Feds investigate rare bear killing | AspenTimes.com

On the hill: Feds investigate rare bear killing

Keith Ridler
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

BOISE, Idaho ” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game are investigating the killing of a large grizzly bear in north-central Idaho, where the last confirmed sighting of the species was in 1946, officials said Friday.

The bear, a member of a threatened species, was killed Monday by a hunter near Kelly Creek about three miles from the Montana border, said Steve Nadeau, statewide large carnivore manager for Fish and Game.

He said the bear was not confirmed as a grizzly until Friday, after the hunter and guide had packed it out of the remote, roadless area and contacted authorities.

The name of the hunter, who is from Tennessee, is not being released, Nadeau said. He said the person was on a guided trip, hunting black bear with bait. Nadeau said the guide, whose name was also not released, was not present when the bear was killed. Black bear season opened Aug. 30.

Nadeau said the male grizzly weighed 400 to 500 pounds and was 6 to 8 years old. The hunter and guide skinned the carcass and brought it out on horseback so it could be confirmed as a grizzly by authorities, Nadeau said. It is now in the possession of Fish and Game.

In April, the Fish and Wildlife Service lifted Endangered Species Act protections for grizzlies in and around Yellowstone National Park. But the bear killed Monday was not part of that population, Nadeau said, and therefore retained federal threatened-species protection. He said that is why the investigation also involves federal authorities.

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Asked whether the hunter would likely face penalties, Nadeau simply said the matter was under investigation.

Chris Servheen, Fish and Wildlife grizzly bear recovery coordinator, would say only that the death was under investigation.

Asked if it was sad to confirm the presence of a grizzly in this way, Servheen, based in Missoula, Mont., said, “Yeah, it’s really sad to see this bear dead. It’s a beautiful grizzly bear. I know the hunter and guide are very sad also.

“It’s not a place you would expect to find a grizzly bear because after all they haven’t been seen there in years.”

In a federal court lawsuit, several environmental groups have challenged the federal decision to lift the 32-year-old “threatened” status for the 500 to 600 Yellowstone-area bears, which live in parts of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

The groups say the grizzly gene pool is still too small to assure future viability of the species that once roamed the area by the thousands.

The bear killed this week was in the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem that includes part of north-central Idaho and western Montana, and where wildlife officials have been expecting grizzly bears to repopulate on their own.

“We’ve put an awful lot of effort in over the years to verify grizzly bears are in the Selway ecosystem,” Nadeau said. “That’s one area where we expected grizzly bears to show up ” Kelly Creek.”

Kelly Creek flows southwest into the North Fork of the Clearwater River.

Nadeau said the bear possibly came from the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem in western Montana or the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem that includes Glacier National Park, and that DNA tests are planned to try and determine the bear’s origin.

Prior to Friday, Nadeau said Fish and Game had been telling black bear hunters that there were no grizzly bears in the area. He said hunters are now being warned that grizzlies are in the area, and that they are not legal to hunt.

“Where there’s one there are likely others,” said Nadeau. “Grizzly bears, like other animals, try to find each other.”

He said the killing of the grizzly could be a setback for grizzlies returning to the area, which is considered prime habitat for the species.

“It’s the first verified animal in 60 years, and it’s no longer there,” he said.