A grizzly bear that spent much of the summer in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area has nudged north and west into Montana.

The 3-year-old griz that has shown an affinity for exploration is still in the Bitterroot Mountains but is now north of U.S. Highway 12. Wayne Kasworm, a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Libby, Mont., said the bear is roaming around the South Fork of Fish Creek drainage, about 15 miles north of Lolo Pass. The creek eventually drains into the Clark Fork River in the Alberton Gorge.

Kasworm said the bear, whose location is tracked via a satelite collar, had gone missing for about 2½ weeks. But the collar began sending locations again this week.

“The last location was in the same vicinity,” he said of the bear before its collar stopped sending locations. “He’s moving around. There is no indication something is wrong except for the fact we didn’t get anything for 2½ weeks.”

Kasworm said the bear’s location isn’t one he would expect the bruin to find an appropriate place to den for the winter, but “he wouldn’t have to go a long way to find a denning spot.”

The bear is likely to do so in the not-too-distant future. Kasworm said most grizzlies start denning in late October or early November, depending on weather and food availability. He speculated the huckleberry crop that the bear and other grizzlies and black bears have likely subsisted on for much of the late summer is now pretty well spent. Bears are now focusing on things like the berries of mountain ash trees and will soon be scavenging elk and deer gut piles left by hunters or the odd animal wounded but not retrieved by hunters. Those sorts of meals tend to be the last food available before winter slams shut Mother Nature’s pantry.

The bear has been slowly exploring northern Idaho for the past year. It is the first time in more than a decade a grizzly has been known be in north central Idaho. Kasworm said state wildlife officials in Montana released the bear in the Cabinet Mountains last year. It moved south into Idaho and was recaptured and returned to Montana after visiting a black bear bait station. The bear again headed south and into Idaho that summer, before returning to the Cabinets to den for the winter.

This spring, when it emerged from hibernation, the bear traveled south into Idaho again. It eventually crossed the into the North Fork of the Clearwater River Basin from the St. Joe River drainage in June and then crossed U.S. Highway 12 and the Lochsa River to reach the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in July. It spent most of the summer moving within the remote area.

Kasworm said young, male bears don’t typically show a high degree of fidelity to denning spots, making it difficult to predict if the bear will return to the Cabinets this fall or pick a new spot for its winter slumber.

Wildlife officials in both Idaho and Montana are reminding hunters that grizzly bears are off-limits to hunting. Black bear hunting season is open. Grizzly bears can be distinguished from black bears by their distinctive shoulder humps, long claws on their front feet, dish-shaped faces and shorter, rounder ears.

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.

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