Washington’s other grizzly bear population—in the South Selkirk Mountains
Grizzly bears (ursus arctos) in northeast Washington’s Selkirk Mountains are one of two populations of grizzly bears in Washington state. The other is the North Cascades, whose grizzly bear population is especially endangered.
More on grizzly bears in the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak Grizzly Bear Recovery Zones from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. The IGBC now manages these two recovery zones together through the Selkirk/Cabinet-Yaak Subcommittee.
The transboundary Selkirk ecosystem embraces 2,200 square miles in northeastern Washington, northern Idaho, and southern BC. Approximately 1,040 square miles of this area is within British Columbia, Canada. Within the United States portion of the ecosystem, the Colville and Idaho Panhandle National Forests, and the Idaho Department of Lands administer public lands.
In 1999, the U,S. Fish and Wildlife Service stated that the Selkirk grizzly bear population status was warranted for listed as federally endangered but that such action was “precluded because of higher endangered species recovery priorities”.
There are currently believed to be at least 50-60 grizzly bears in the Selkirk Recovery Zone with numbers approximately equally divided between the Canadian and U.S. portions of the ecosystems. Another 40 bears are estimated to reside in the Cabinet-Yaak Recovery Zone of northwest Montana and northeast Idaho. Recent increases in bear deaths from vehicle collisions, poaching, and mistaken human-caused mortality, may now be causing a decline in both bear populations. Of known bear deaths in the Selkirks, 75% took place within half a mile from roads.
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, something that has been done successfully in the Cabinet-Yaak Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone.
- 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.