« Return to this article

Know the West

Barely there

  After decades of searching, federal biologists haven't found a single grizzly bear in Montana and Idaho's Bitterroot/Selway ecosystem. But the Missoula-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies and seven other local environmental organizations say there may be a remnant population - one that people have overlooked. The groups recently launched a "Great Grizzly Search." It involves distributing a booklet in which forest-goers can record specifics about bear sightings. Mike Bader of Alliance for the Wild Rockies says he hopes collecting more information about bear tracks, scat and physical characteristics will help environmentalists and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pin down whether grizzlies still roam the Bitterroot. Johanna Roy, a federal grizzly biologist, says her agency welcomes the extra help in looking for the bear, but she cautions that it will take more than just casual sightings to prove grizzlies exist. Grizzly bears have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1975, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to reintroduce an "experimental/non-essential" population to aid the great bruin's recovery. An experimental designation means the bears won't have full protection under the ESA, however, and it's legal only if no native grizzlies remain.

For copies of the Search's pocket-sized booklet and observation cards, write Great Grizzly Search, P.O. Box 8983, Missoula, MT 59807, or call Alliance for the Wild Rockies at 406/721-5420. USFWS also has a sighting form available, along with more extensive information on how to distinguish grizzlies from black bears. The agency's Grizzly Bear Sighting Form for the Bitterroot is available from Grizzly Bear Recovery Office, University Hall, Room 309, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, or call Johanna Roy at 208/476-3435.

*Ali Macalady