Panhandle grizzly is still meandering around Clearwater basin

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(Photo by Dwayne Reilander) A collared grizzly that made its way south from Montana’s Cabinet Mountains through the Panhandle earlier this year is being tracked by Fish and Game in Idaho’s Selway Bitterroot region near the Montana border. The bear is among several that have appeared in the Panhandle in the last couple years. About 40 grizzlies live in the Cabinets and some of the bears occasionally make their way into the Coeur d’Alene National Forest.

The grizzly bear that lumbered south into the Clearwater region after being reported in the Panhandle in June has reversed course and started to move north.

Wayne Kasworm of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Libby, Mont., said the 3-year-old male grizzly who is wearing a satellite tracking collar was last detected in Brushy Fork Creek, a tributary to the Lochsa River.

“He is still south of (U.S.) Highway 12 and up fairly close to the divide but on the Idaho side,” Kasworm said. “It’s kind of interesting. He has turned around because he had been doing nothing but going south for some time now.”

The wandering bruin moved as far south as Frog Lake and Frog Mountain in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area before doing a 180.

Since being observed last year in the Cabinet Mountains near Spar Lake, the 2-year-old collared male bear traveled south across the Clark Fork River, which flows west from Montana to Idaho.

The grizzly returned to the Cabinets to den for the winter, and after emerging in March it moved south within a couple weeks into Idaho’s Panhandle where it was located in April. The bear was located 40 miles southeast of Kellogg in early June before making its way to the Kelly Creek drainage by crossing the St. Joe River Basin and entering the North Fork of the Clearwater River Basin through the Mallard Larkin Pioneer Area.

Its image was captured in mid June by an outfitter’s trail camera at a black bear bait site in the North Fork Basin.

The bear moved from the St. Joe area south of Kellogg to Kelly Creek in three days, biologists said. Kelly Creek is a drainage of the North Fork of the Clearwater River which flows into Dworshak Reservoir north of Orofino.

It continued moving south and crossed U.S. Highway 12 — the east and west highway that connects Lewiston with Lolo Hot Springs 180 miles east in Montana. The bear crossed the Lochsa River into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and for most of the summer, aside from a brief sojourn into Montana by way of the Bitterroot Divide, has largely stayed in Idaho.

Kasworm said the bear is likely feeding primarily on ripe huckleberries and other berries.

“Those are the types of food that really put fat on a bear,” he said.

Grizzlies aren’t usually encountered in the St. Joe and Clearwater regions. In 2007, a hunter killed a grizzly he thought was a black bear while hunting near Kelly Creek, according to USFWS.

Grizzly bears are protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The bear is within a vast area that has been identified as the Bitterroot grizzly bear recovery area.

Ralph Barthold of the Hagadone News Network contributed to this report.

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