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Selkirk Mountains grizzly population as high as 72

by Laura Roady
| November 4, 2010 9:00 PM

There are between 50 and 72 grizzly bears inhabiting the Selkirk Mountains of Idaho and British Columbia, according to a recent study.

"Sixty-five to 70 bears has been my estimate," said Wayne Wakkinen, Idaho Fish and Game biologist, who presented the information at the September KVRI meeting. "We were pretty good with our guess."

Results indicate that grizzly bear density ranges from 2.5 to 3.6 bears per 100 square miles, with the Selkirks covering approximately 2,000 square miles.

Density results are similar to grizzly bear studies in the Canadian Selkirks, with densities of 16.5 bears per 1,000 square kilometers in Canada and 14.1 bears per 1,000 square kilometers in the U.S.

"Four of the bears in our sampling were also sampled in British Columbia," said Wakkinen. Individual bears could be identified because both studies relied on DNA from hair samples to count the bears.

The study provides a size estimate of the population, but Wakkinen warned it doesn't say anything about the trend. While the DNA does indicate if the bear is male or female, it doesn't indicate whether it is of reproductive age.

Of the 15 grizzly bears captured in the study area, nine were females and six were males. With the results extrapolated to the entire Selkirk Range, the estimated population is 50 to 72 grizzly bears.

Grizzly bears in the Selkirk Mountains have a distinct DNA fingerprint that allows researchers to distinguish them from grizzlies in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem and the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem.

"These are resident bears," Wakkinen said. "There is evidence that the Selkirk species is expanding... I think with the amount of movement between the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem, the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem and the Selkirks, that we are not in a big rush to be concerned about genetics ... I think it is getting better."

To further understand the grizzly bear population in the Selkirks, the next project focuses on habitat-quality monitoring. "If we can rate habitat... then we can say that the density (of the grizzly bears) is higher or lower in certain habitat areas," Wakkinen said.

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