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Grizzly bears of the Selkirks

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Grizzly bears in Washington's Selkirk Mountains are one of two populations of grizzly bears, the other in the North Cascades, in Washington State.

Selkirk grizzly bear, Dana Base/WDFW
Selkirk grizzly bear, Dana Base/WDFW

Grizzly bears in Washington's Selkirk Mountains in the Columbia Highlands are one of two populations of grizzly bears in Washington State. The other is the North Cascades, whose grizzly bear population is especially endangered; Washington's bears need our help.

What you can do for grizzly bears

The Selkirk ecosystem embraces 2,200 square miles in northeastern Washington, northern Idaho, and southern BC. In 1999, the US Fish and Wildlife Service stated that the Selkirk bears’ status should be upgraded to endangered but that such action would not take place because of higher priorities.

Approximately 40-50 bears remain here (the recovery plan calls for 90) and their numbers appeared stable in the mid-1900s. Recent increases in poaching and mistaken human-caused mortality, however, may now be causing a decline.

Of known bear deaths in the Selkirks, 75% took place within half a mile from roads.

Restoring connections

Managers have long assumed that the Selkirk population, while small, was more resilient because of their connection to existing healthy bear populations in Canada. Yet a 2005 study found that highways and the resulting development may be severing these connections.

For the population to survive, wildlife managers hope to:

  • Augment the existing bear population with breeding age females
  • Better educate hunters about the differences between black bears (legal to hunt) and grizzly bears (a protected species) to reduce accidental killings
  • Educate people on how to store food properly in bear country
  • Protect habitat and safe passage between populations of bears: to the east with the Cabinet/Yaak, northern Continental Divide, and Bitterroot ecosystems, and to the north with Canada, and, for example, bears in the Purcell Mountains.

Resource: "Places for Grizzly Bears: A blueprint for restoration and recovery in the lower 48 states" (Defenders of Wildlife, 2006)

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