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Rare grizzly bear photographed in North Cascades

By Craig Welch
Seattle Times

"The federal agencies 20 years ago determined that the habitat was exceptional and could support a stable population of bears," said Mitch Friedman, with Conservation Northwest. "But as the years passed without photos, I came to wonder if North Cascades grizzlies were like vampires and wouldn't show up in photos. I'm relieved to know the bears are there."

For the first time in nearly half a century, experts have confirmed that a hiker has photographed a living grizzly bear in the North Cascades of Washington.

A hiker last fall snapped several pictures of a bear while walking near the Upper Cascade River watershed. He knew the bear looked unusual, but didn't share his evidence with federal biologists until late this spring, after friends made clear to him that it was an extraordinarily rare encounter.

In May, the hiker contacted North Cascades National Park, which examined the photographs and shared them with federal grizzly bear experts around the West. The group unanimously confirmed that the animal in question is a grizzly bear.

In 1996, federal biologists confirmed through other means, such as tracks or hair samples, that a grizzly had been roaming the North Cascades. But this hiker's photograph was the first of its kind in many decades.

Grizzly bear researchers in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest already had identified the area where the bear was spotted as a great place to perhaps locate a grizzly bear.

Grizzly bears in the North Cascades are protected under the Endangered Species Act, but have been seen so rarely in the last several decades that many experts wondered if the bears still survived.

Some biologists have even referred to them as "the walking dead."

A decade ago, Canadian researchers had been discussing plans to relocate bears from the far north of British Columbia to the Canadian side of the border along the North Cascades to help augment the troubled bear population.

"The federal agencies 20 years ago determined that the habitat was exceptional and could support a stable population of bears," said Mitch Friedman, with Conservation Northwest. "But as the years passed without photos, I came to wonder if North Cascades grizzlies were like vampires and wouldn't show up in photos. I'm relieved to know the bears are there."

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