Genetic test results on the grizzly bear killed in the Kelly Creek area of the Bitterroot ecosystem last month show it was from the Selkirks in north Idaho.
A hunter from Tennessee on an outfitted bear hunt in Idaho's North Fork Clearwater River drainage killed a grizzly bear on Labor Day, September 3. It is the first grizzly bear verified since 1946 on the Idaho side of the 5,700-square-mile Selway-Bitteroot ecosystem in central Idaho and western Montana.
The 4- to 6-year-old male, about 400 pounds, with a silvery back and in good physical condition, was killed three miles from the Montana border.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that DNA from the bear, when compared to samples from bears in 15 other areas, matched DNA from bears in the Selkirks.
The genetics of the Selkirk population is the most distinct of all the populations compared. Because the Selkirk population is distinct and because this bear DNA sample is right in the middle of the Selkirk samples, this is a very positive origin signature.
The distance from the southernmost area of the Selkirks, such as the town of Priest River, to the spot where this bear was killed is 141 air miles. Obviously, this bear didn't move in a straight line.
The origin of this bear highlights the importance of movement areas on the western edge of the Bitterroot ecosystem, including the area along the Montana-Idaho border between Highway 200 and Lookout Pass; the section of Interstate 90 between Lookout Pass and St. Regis; and the St. Joe River drainage, north of the Clearwater drainage where he was shot.
Wildlife managers don't know how the bear got to Kelly Creek, but the journey probably involved the areas listed above, which form the most direct route between the southern Selkirks and the northern end of the Bitterroot. That journey underscores the importance of migration corridors in grizzly bear recovery and for all wildlife movement.
Though grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem have been removed from the endangered species list, they still are protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in the Selway-Bitteroot and Selkirk areas in Idaho.