A wandering grizzly bear has continued to move south but remains in the greater Kelly Creek area of Idaho’s Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest.
Wayne Kasworm, a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Libby, Mont., said the bear fitted with a tracking collar was last detected about midway up the largely roadless Cayuse Creek drainage, a tributary to Kelly Creek. Both creeks are in the upper section of the North Fork of the Clearwater River basin, an area popular with campers and anglers but far from towns and other development.
The now 3-year-old male grizzly bear was released into the Cabinet Mountains of Montana last July as part of an effort to augment the population there. The bear showed little interest in the area and soon began to move south. It crossed the Clark Fork River into Idaho last August and visited a black bear baiting site in the early fall. State and federal wildlife officials decided to trap the bear and return it to Montana.
But the bruin moved south and back into Idaho. He eventually returned to the Cabinet Mountains in Montana and denned for the winter. In March, after awaking from hibernation, the bear again crossed into Idaho and has continued to move south.
It was seen at a black bear baiting site in the Kelly Creek drainage earlier this month. The bear’s presence in an area open to black bear hunting and to the practice of bear baiting — placing human food in remote areas to attract bears — prompted Idaho Fish and Game officials to warn black bear hunters to make sure to identify their targets before pulling the trigger. Grizzly bears are protected as a threatened species and cannot be taken by hunters.
Grizzlies are distinguished from black bears by their distinctive shoulder humps, long claws on their front feet and shorter, rounder ears.
Earlier this month, before the grizzly was known to be in an area open to bear baiting, three environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service for allowing bear baiting on federal forests in Idaho and Montana. The groups that include Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians and Wilderness Watch, say the practice should be banned and puts grizzlies at risk of being shot.
The Forest Service once regulated bear baiting on land it manages, but stopped in 1992 and instead left it up to state wildlife agencies to decide when and where the practice should be allowed. The groups argue that several grizzly bears have been killed at baiting sites when hunters have mistaken them for black bears.
That happened in Kelly Creek in 2007. An out-of-state hunter killed a roaming grizzly bear after mistaking it for a black bear. The hunter and his guide self-reported the killing.
Black bear hunting season ends in Idaho on Sunday. Sharon Kiefer, chief of the Idaho Fish and Game Communications Bureau at Boise, said it is up to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission to decide if bear baiting should be allowed in the upper North Fork of the Clearwater River basin. The state forbids the practice in areas that are known to be occupied by grizzlies, such as places in eastern Idaho just outside of Yellowstone National Park.
Kiefer said the bear now in Cayuse Creek is transient and there isn’t known to be an established population there. She noted it’s been 12 years since another grizzly has been documented there.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if in the course of season setting that someone brings it up. Our focus has been on occupied (grizzly bear habitat). Just because we see a grizzly traveling through doesn’t’t necessarily make that habitat occupied.”
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