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Hunter mistakenly shoots, kills grizzly

by BILL BULEY
Hagadone News Network | June 19, 2024 1:00 AM

A male grizzly bear was recently shot and killed in North Idaho by a hunter who told Fish and Game he thought it was a black bear.

The same thing happened in June 2023, when another hunter shot and killed a male grizzly bear north of Upper Priest Lake. The hunter said then he thought it was a black bear.

“If you're not 100% positive what you're shooting it, it's not worth taking the shot," said TJ Ross, Fish and Game spokesman for the Panhandle Region.

Grizzly bears are protected under state and federal law, and bear hunters are responsible for proper identification of their target, Fish and Game said in a press release.

The shooting took place June 10 near the lower St. Joe River near St. Maries in Unit 6 of the Idaho Panhandle, an area not commonly used by grizzly bears. 

Conditions were clear and visibility was good when the hunter fired from about 25 yards away, Ross said.

"After identifying the bear at the scene as a grizzly, the hunter contacted Idaho Fish and Game and has cooperated with the investigation," the release said.

Ross said the hunter was issued a warning. After interviewing the hunter, who lives in Idaho, Fish and Game officials believed his account of what happened.

"It was an accident," Ross said. "He felt terrible it happened."

He said that the hunter was so close underscores the importance of being able to distinguish a grizzly from a black bear.

"You have to make sure you know what you're shooting at," Ross said. 

Most of Idaho’s grizzly bear populations are in the northern Panhandle area and the area in and around Yellowstone National Park in eastern Idaho.

"But young male grizzlies may wander long distances and into areas where people don’t expect to encounter them," the release said. "These young male bears typically wander through an area, but don’t remain there."

The U.S. Forest Service reported that about 35-40 grizzly bears reside in the Selkirk Mountains with another 30-40 occupying the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem of Idaho and Montana.

The state of Idaho is seeking court approval to revise or remove the current listing of “lower 48” grizzly bears as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. 

Grizzly bears are listed as a threatened species in the contiguous U.S.

Grizzly bears are a subspecies of brown bear found in Alaska and Canada. The total grizzly bear population is estimated at over 60,000 bears, with about 2,000 in Idaho, Washington, Wyoming and Montana.

Fish and Game said hunters "are encouraged to review their bear identification skills to avoid mistaken identity."

Size and color of the animal are not reliable indicators of species. It’s best to look at multiple features in order to make the right call, Fish and Game said. Grizzly bears typically have short, rounded ears, a dished facial profile, a prominent shoulder hump and 2-4 inch-long claws.