Idaho Department of Fish and Game recently confirmed that tracks near Grangeville came from a grizzly bear, a species not common in that part of the state, according to an agency news release.
The tracks were spotted April 18 about seven miles south of Grangeville in the Fish Creek Meadows area, officials said. A hair sample was collected near the tracks and sent to a lab for genetic testing, but results won’t be available for several months.
“We don’t know if it’s going to stay,” said Jon Rachael, state wildlife manager for Fish and Game, in a phone interview. “We don’t know if it’s still there now.” According to Fish and Game, it’s not the first instance of a bear in the region. A hair sample was collected near White Bird Creek, southwest of Grangeville, in spring of 2019. DNA testing of the sample showed that animal was a young male grizzly that had been radio-collared as a yearling near Idaho’s border with Canada in 2017. The bear’s collar had fallen off in 2018, so no tracking data was available last year.
“If confirmed as the same bear, this bear is now 4 years old, and it has traveled several hundred miles through Idaho and Montana without any known conflict with people,” Fish and Game said in the news release.
Experts say grizzly bears, considered an endangered species in the Lower 48 of the United States, have been expanding their territory in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana for the last decade. Last summer, a male grizzly wearing a tracking collar headed south into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area, where grizzlies hadn’t been seen in nearly a century.
“We don’t have a lot of indication of grizzly bears in that area,” Rachael said.
Last fall, a hunter captured images on a game camera of what he believes is a grizzly bear in the Newsome Creek area west of Elk City. That’s only about 21 miles from Fish Creek Meadows, where Fish and Game found grizzly tracks last weekend. Fish and Game took DNA samples from bear scat in the area, but the results came back positive for a black bear. Rachael said it’s possible the animal in the photo was a grizzly and the scat tested belonged to a different animal. He said it’s also possible the bear in the photo is the same one that left tracks near Grangeville.
Officials with Fish and Game’s Clearwater Region told the Lewiston Tribune in January that they received photos of a purported grizzly in the White Bird Creek area. They said they weren’t able to confirm whether the animal was a grizzly, and it’s not clear if that investigation is linked with the confirmed grizzly DNA sample taken at White Bird Creek in spring of 2019.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maps from 2018 show grizzly bears are known to be in eastern Idaho near the border of Wyoming, where they sometimes roam from Yellowstone National Park. The bears are also known to be in far North Idaho near the Canadian border.
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