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Selway-Bitterroot Grizzly Returns To Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem

File photo. Grizzly bear track.
Jim Peaco
National Park Service
Grizzly bear track.

A young male grizzly that made his way into the national Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness near the Montana-Idaho border this year has made the trek back to the Libby area to den for the winter. The journey showed that grizzly bear movement into the unpopulated Bitterroot ecosystem is possible.

The young male grizzly was brought from the Whitefish Mountain Range near Glacier National Park to the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem in 2018 as part of a long-term program to increase bear numbers in the far northwest corner of the state.

During a presentation at an Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee meeting in Missoula Tuesday, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grizzly biologist Wayne Kasworm said data transmitted from the bear’s GPS collar shows that he immediately ventured south when he was released.

"The bear did go south, cross the Clark Fork River and spent time between Clark Fork, Idaho and Heron, Montana."

After the young grizzly visited a black bear baiting site in Idaho, he was transported back to the Cabinet-Yaak mountains where he spent last winter. But this spring he ventured even further south into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness where there’s no established grizzly population.

"Spent quite a bit of time for the months of June, the last part of June, July, August and even early September inside the Selway-Bitterroot wilderness,” Kasworm said.

The young bear’s journey has given hope that grizzlies could naturally begin to repopulate the Bitterroot ecosystem, one of six established recovery zones for the threatened species.

The grizzly has made his way back to the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem for the winter. Kasworm said there are some gaps in the data transmitted from the bear’s collar, but it’s known the young male was able to cross Interstate 90 and other busy highways. Once Kasworm obtains the collar, he will be able to download the complete dataset that will show all of the bear’s movements. That information could shed light on potential connectivity to the Bitterroot.

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.
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