Grizzly project update

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Veteran U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Wayne Kasworm recently released the results of the monitoring project of grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk Mountains.

Kasworm reported his team monitored 11 grizzlies in the Cabinet-Yaak during at least a portion of 2018.

Two of these bears are part of the Selkirk Mountains discussion. A subadult male was captured east of the recovery area near McGregor Lake in early May and released in Big Creek on the west side of Koocanusa Reservoir.

An adult male was captured in the Yaak River area in late September. This animal previously wore a radio collar on three previous occasions dating back to 2011. Four of the bears in the area are females and two of these are adults that emerged in from dens with two cubs each. The other two females are 3- and 5-years-old, respectively, and have not produced cubs yet. Two subadult males wore radio collars as part of research monitoring with one in the Yaak and one in the Cabinets.

The remaining individual was a male bear moved to the Cabinet Mountains as part of the augmentation program, which has been used to move grizzlies to what is hoped to be more desirable location.

Here is a look at the some of the bears that USFWS tracked this year.

Cabinet Mountains Augmentation

According to Kasworm, a 2-year-old male augmentation bear was released in the West Cabinet Mountains near Spar Lake on July 21. The bear moved south from the release and crossed the Clark Fork River on August 7 just downstream from Cabinet Gorge dam. The bear remained south of the Clark Fork River with few if any observations or reports from the public until Sept. 3 when an Idaho resident reported a collared grizzly bear at a black bear bait site. A decision was made to attempt capture and relocate the bear back into Montana.

The bear was captured Sept. 5 and after receiving a new radio collar, it was released in the South Fork of the Bull River. However, the bear returned to the same area south of the Clark Fork River Sept. 13. Most recently the bear has been located in Montana south and west of Heron.

“We have relatively few reports or sightings of the animal,” Kasworm wrote. “Baiting of bears during the black bear hunting season is not allowed in Idaho north of the Clark Fork River nor is it allowed at any time in Montana. The practice of baiting is at contrast with the policy of minimizing attractants for bears until the black bear season opens when these attractants become legal for the purpose of hunting black bears.

“There are also established policies of food storage on public lands within the recovery area to minimize the opportunities for bears to learn to use human foods. The bait site in this case utilized human foods and was within 500 yards of five homes and was within 1,000 yards of more than 20 homes,” Kasworm wrote.

Current recovery plans seeks bears to move between recovery areas to increase genetic diversity among populations, and in the case of the Bitterroot to restore populations of grizzly bears. Natural restoration of bears to the Bitterroot could potentially occur from the Selkirks, Cabinet-Yaak, the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, or Yellowstone, according to Kasworm.

Three grizzly bears are known to have been killed in the area south of the Selkirks and Cabinet-Yaak since 2007. Two of those bears have been killed at black bear bait sites. One of those bears originated in the Selkirk Mountains but was killed in the Bitterroot recovery area.

Selkirk Mountains Research Monitoring

The USFWS monitored eight grizzly bears in the Selkirk Mountains during at least part of 2018: Four females and four males. Two bears were captured during 2018 trapping activities. Both individuals were adult males that had worn radio collars previously.

“One of these bears made a notable movement west of the Pend Oreille River in early October then returned,” Kasworm wrote. “A 2-year-old male was captured near Rathdrum, Idaho and relocated to the Cabinet Mountains, but has been recently using habitat on the periphery of the Selkirk Mountains north of Bonners Ferry. “Another 2-year-old male originally captured in the Selkirks has moved southeast through the Cabinet-Yaak and has recently lost the radio collar in the Fisher River.

Kasworm wrote the bear has traveled more than 125 miles from the Selkirks to the most southeasterly point.

“This is another example of bears moving from one recovery area to another; however ultimate population linkage is determined by reproduction and gene flow from one population to another. One of the collared females has yearlings this year and two of the other adult females were observed without young,” he wrote.

Genetic Sampling for Research

Genetic samples from 2017 have not been completed by the lab, but are expected soon. Hair snagging at corrals and rub trees occurred in both recovery areas during 2018.

Team members visit rub trees and collect hair on a monthly basis. Corrals and cameras are set and may remain for two to four weeks prior to collection. Sites are typically moved but may remain in a site longer depending upon results.

“We place trail cameras at corral sites and we are checking these photos for presence of young and any identifying marks of bears at the sites. All collected hair is being cataloged and assembled for transport to the lab later this year or early next year,” Kasworm wrote.

Management Actions

A young male grizzly bear was captured near McGregor Lake between Libby and Kalispell in early May. The bear had been frequenting several residences and may have gotten pet food or garbage. Traps were set and the bear was captured and collared.

“Because of snow cover and limited release site opportunities it was decided to release this animal in Big Creek on the west side of Koocanusa Reservoir approximately 25 miles north of Libby,” Kasworm wrote. “The animal moved extensively including a foray into the Cabinet Mountains and a return to the Yaak near the area of release. A mortality signal from the collar initiated an investigation which determined the animal was dead from human causes and is still under investigation.”

Another young male was observed north of Rathdrum, Idaho in early August and apparently was being fed by several residents. A decision was made to attempt capture and this occurred August 16 by Idaho Fish and Game. The bear was fit with a radio collar and released in the East Fork of Boulder Creek in the West Cabinet Mountains. The animal then moved into the Kootenai River Valley north of Bonners Ferry and is being monitored. Origin of this individual is unknown, but genetic samples may answer that question, Kasworm wrote.

Cabinet-Yaak/Selkirk Mountains Human-Caused Mortality

There are no known instances of human-caused mortality thus far in the U.S. portion of the Selkirk Mountains, but there have been two instances of known mortality in the Cabinet-Yaak and one instance of probable mortality, according to Kasworm.

A private trail camera from in the Yaak detected a bear that was injured or wounded in early spring. A site visit by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks conflict specialist Kim Annis located hair samples that will be genetically analyzed.

The bear or a carcass could not be located but the apparent severity of the wounds to the bear in the photograph makes it likely the bear died.

One of the instances of known mortality was previously described as the McGregor Lake management bear. The other was an adult female found dead of human causes in Canuck Creek. The incident is under investigation by Idaho Fish and Game.

Bear Attack in the Cabinet Mountains

Kasworm also discussed the grizzly attack that occurred May 17, when bear researcher Amber Kornak was mauled by a bear in the Poorman Creek drainage about 15 miles south of Libby in the Cabinet Mountains.

Kornak was employed by the University of Montana and supervised by the USFWS through its Grizzly bear Recovery program.

She was hiking along a closed road visiting rub trees to collect bear hair for genetic analysis. Though she was cautious and making noise she surprised a bear along Poorman Creek and was bitten on the back of her neck and head by the bear.

“Kornak was carrying bear spray and was able to deploy the spray which probably saved her from additional injury and possibly her life. She was also carrying a satellite communication device that enabled her to contact 911 services immediately after the event,” Kasworm wrote. “She was able to walk back to her truck and drove part way back to Libby before meeting the ambulance with medical attention and transport to Kalispelll Regional Hospital.”

Kornak underwent several hours of surgery for her wounds, but has since returned to limited duty work on this project and at another seasonal job. Bear hair found at the site was analyzed by the genetics laboratory and found to be a male grizzly bear previously captured in the Cabinet Mountains in 2005 and since identified at numerous hair snag sites.

No action was taken by Montana FWP because the investigation determined it was a surprise defensive encounter and no action was taken against the bear.

Acknowledgements

Kasworm said the capture efforts and hair snagging are part of a research and monitoring effort that includes cooperators and funders from Birchdale Ecological (M. Proctor), British Columbia Conservation Officer Service, Colville National Forest, Idaho Department of Lands, Idaho Fish and Game, Idaho Panhandle National Forest, Kalispell Tribe, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks, Kootenai National Forest, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The effort is led by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Grizzly Bear Recovery Office but also supported by funding from the Idaho and Washington state offices of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We thank numerous private owners of timber lands that have granted access to their property for this research effort including: Caribou Mountain Lodge, Hancock Forest Management, Molpus Woodlands, Stimson Lumber and Weyerhaeuser Timber.”

Reporter Scott Shindledecker may be reached at 406-758-4441 or sshindledecker@dailyinterlake.com.

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