From: Keith Ridler -Associated Press
Published September 8, 2007 06:44 AM

Feds Probe Killing of Rare Grizzly

BOISE, Idaho — Federal and state wildlife officials said Friday they are investigating the killing of a grizzly bear in north-central Idaho, where the last confirmed sighting of the species was in 1946.


The bear, a member of a threatened species, was killed Monday by a hunter near Kelly Creek about three miles from the Montana border, said Steve Nadeau, statewide large carnivore manager for the Idaho fish and game department.


Nadeau said the bear was not confirmed as a grizzly until Friday, after the hunter and guide had packed it out of the remote, roadless area and contacted authorities.


Officials did not release the identities of the hunter or the guide, who was not present when the bear was killed.


Nadeau said the hunter, who is from Tennessee, was on a guided trip, hunting black bear with bait. Black bear hunting season opened Aug. 30.


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Nadeau said the male grizzly weighed 400 to 500 pounds and was 6 to 8 years old. The hunter and guide skinned the carcass and brought it out on horseback so it could be confirmed as a grizzly by authorities, Nadeau said.


It is now in the possession of state fish and game department.


In April, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lifted Endangered Species Act protections for grizzlies in and around Yellowstone National Park.


But the bear killed Monday was not part of that population, Nadeau said, and therefore retained federal threatened-species protection. He said that is why the investigation also involves federal authorities.


Asked whether the hunter would likely face penalties, Nadeau said the matter was under investigation.


Chris Servheen, Fish and Wildlife grizzly bear recovery coordinator, said the death was under investigation.


In a federal court lawsuit, several environmental groups have challenged the federal decision to lift the 32-year-old "threatened" status for the 500 to 600 Yellowstone-area bears, which live in parts of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.


The groups say the grizzly gene pool is still too small to assure future viability of the species that once roamed the area by the thousands.


The bear killed this week was in the Selway-Bitterroot ecosystem that includes part of north-central Idaho and western Montana, and where wildlife officials have been expecting grizzly bears to repopulate on their own.


"We've put an awful lot of effort in over the years to verify grizzly bears are in the Selway ecosystem," Nadeau said. "That's one area where we expected grizzly bears to show up — Kelly Creek."


Nadeau said the bear possibly came from the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem in western Montana or the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem that includes Glacier National Park. DNA tests are planned to try and determine the bear's origin.


Prior to Friday, Nadeau said Fish and Game had been telling black bear hunters that there were no grizzly bears in the area. He said hunters are now being warned that grizzlies are in the area, and that they are not legal to hunt.


"Where there's one there are likely others," said Nadeau. "Grizzly bears, like other animals, try to find each other."


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