Researcher: At Least 42 Grizzlies in Cabinet, Yaak

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA — A “hair of the bear” study has accounted for at least 42 grizzly bears in the Cabinet Mountains and Yaak River drainage regions of northwestern Montana.

Research leader Kate Kendall reported her findings to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee Tuesday, the Missoulian reported.

Researchers used about 800 scent-baited “hair corrals” where rings of barbed wire snagged hair as the animals stepped over or under it to investigate the scent. They also collected samples in about 1,200 places where bears naturally stop to scratch their backs, such as trees, posts and poles in a 3,750-square-mile area in the mountains above Eureka, Libby, Trout Creek, Yaak and Troy.

The samples, collected in 2012 and analyzed this year, identified 38 grizzlies by their DNA. Researchers also knew about four collared bears whose DNA didn’t appear in the samples.

“That’s the rock-solid minimum count we detected,” research leader Kate Kendall told the committee at its meeting in Missoula. Including visiting bears and bears that died during the study, the figure could be as high as 54, she said.

The number is important because the health of the grizzly population influences how much logging and mining can take place in the area.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Wayne Kasworm said before the DNA study, he relied on a six-year rolling average based on sightings, captures and mortality to estimate the region had about 37 grizzlies.

The Cabinet-Yaak area is one of six in the continental United States where the federal government is committed to restoring grizzly bears, currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Similar research has pegged the number of grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, between Glacier National Park and Missoula, at almost 1,000.

Between the DNA testing and monitoring radio-collared bears, researchers are learning more about what’s going on among the trees.

Thompson Falls District Ranger Randy Hojem said one hair sample came from a grizzly that left his home around Glacier park to visit the Cabinet Mountains at least four times between 1998 and 2012. The bear had been previously caught and collared during other research projects, developing its paper trail.

Meanwhile, a female grizzly that had been trapped and relocated to the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem was found to have made a journey to Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada, three years ago, return to the Cabinets to den in 2012, and then travel to Waterton and back last summer before losing her radio collar.