Hunter shot grizzly after Idaho officials said it was a black bear


The hunter who killed a grizzly bear northeast of St. Maries last week did so after Idaho wildlife officials said it was a black bear.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game announced late Tuesday that it had finished investigating the June 10 killing of a subadult male grizzly over a bait site in the lower St. Joe River drainage, an area where the threatened species is not normally seen.

The agency also revealed for the first time since the killing that its staff played a role in allowing the bear to be killed.

Two days before the bear was shot, the hunter sent Idaho Fish and Game video of a bear at a bait site about  5 miles northeast of St. Maries. The hunter was concerned that the bear could be a grizzly, according to Idaho Fish and Game.

After seeing video of the bear, Fish and Game staffers told the hunter that it was a black bear.

The hunter, whose name has not been released, killed the bear. Shortly after, he realized it was  a grizzly and reported it to Idaho Fish and Game. The hunter was not cited.

In the release, the agency said it "regrets the mistake made by its staff, the undue stress the situation caused for the hunter and the loss of the grizzly bear." The agency also said it is "reviewing its staff's part in the incident as a personnel matter."

Telling the difference between grizzly and black bears can be challenging, and size and color aren't always reliable indicators. Grizzlies usually have prominent shoulder humps, rounded ears and a dished facial profile. Their claws are also longer than that of black bears.

The agency posted two videos from the hunter online Tuesday night. One shows two bears at the site — one a big, fat black bear, the other a skinny, brownish bear with a slight shoulder hump.

The second shows just the skinnier bear, apparently the grizzly.

Fish and Game staff misidentified it as a black bear "because it lacked some common features of a grizzly," according to the news release.

TJ Ross, an Idaho Fish and Game spokesman, said the telltale features of a grizzly aren't always as obvious in younger bears. He said the hump wasn't as prominent as they'd normally expect, and the ears didn't have the typical shape or proportion to the face.

He also said the location of the bait site played a big role in their misidentification.

"That was a big part of what happened there," Ross said. "It is not a place where grizzly bears appear very often."

It was in Idaho's big game unit six, which begins at the divide between the St. Joe and Coeur d'Alene river drainages and stretches south. The nearest established grizzly population is about 50 miles northeast, in the Cabinet Mountains of northwestern Montana.

Most of Idaho's grizzlies are much farther north in the Selkirk Mountains or in eastern Idaho near Yellowstone National Park.

Grizzlies are known to wander long distances, however, and they occasionally surface in areas where people aren't used to seeing them.

Nick Gevock, the Sierra Club's Northern Rockies field organizer, said it makes sense that one would find its way into the mountains of the lower St. Joe River drainage.

"There's a lot of wild, really good grizzly bear habitat through there," Gevock said.

He also said the incident shows "why we shouldn't be baiting black bears, period."

Three environmental groups — WildEarth Guardians, Wilderness Watch and Western Watersheds Project — filed a lawsuit over the allowance of black bear baiting in grizzly habitat in Idaho and Wyoming in 2019. A judge ruled against the groups in 2023, and they've appealed the suit to the Ninth Circuit Court.

It's the second consecutive year that a black bear hunter has shot a grizzly in North Idaho. Last June, a hunter was issued a citation for killing a grizzly north of Priest Lake.


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