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Hunter asks before killing ‘black bear’ in Idaho, officials say they misidentified it.
Hunter asks before killing ‘black bear’ in Idaho, officials say they misidentified it.

ST. MARIES (Idaho Statesman) — Department of Conservation officials said they mistakenly thought a protected grizzly bear was a black bear before an Idaho hunter killed it.

A concerned hunter sent videos of a young bear at a bait site in the Panhandle region to Idaho Game and Fish on June 8, the wildlife agency said in a June 18 news release.

The hunter was on U.S. Forest Service property, about 5 miles from St. Maries, officials said.

He feared the animal was a grizzly bear and asked wildlife officials to identify the animal before shooting it, officials said.

The animal has been listed as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the lower 48 states since 1975, making it illegal to “harm, harass, or kill these bears except in cases of self-defense or defense of others.”

However, state officials are pushing to remove the animal from federal protection in Idaho.

Wildlife officials reviewed the videos and concluded that the animal was a black bear “because it lacked some typical characteristics of a grizzly bear,” officials said.

It was also in an area where grizzly bears are not normally found, officials said. The hunter killed the young bear two days later and then realized it was a grizzly, officials said.

He contacted the Nature Conservation Agency, cooperated with the investigation and will not be charged, officials said.

Fish and Game is now “reviewing the role of its employees in the incident as a personnel matter.”

“Fish and Game regrets the error of its employees, the unnecessary stress the situation caused the hunter, and the loss of the grizzly bear,” the department said.

The agency also warns hunters that young grizzly bears may end up in areas where they do not expect to find them.

WHAT IS BEAR BAITING?

Conservation groups disapprove of the use of bear baiting in areas where grizzly bears live.

Baits are substances used to attract big game. According to wildlife officials, hunters in Idaho are only allowed to lure black bears. But this poses a problem when a young grizzly bear wanders into an area where it is not normally found and is attracted to the bait.

Several environmental groups, including the Western Watersheds Project, appealed a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that found bear baiting does not harm grizzly bears in Idaho and Wyoming national forests.

The groups argued for more regulations but lost in court.

“These were exactly the kinds of tragic grizzly killings we sought to prevent with our lawsuit. We wanted to get federal agencies to reconsider whether bear baiting should be allowed in grizzly bear habitat,” said Erik Molvar, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project, in a June 20 press release.

“IDFG wants grizzly bears delisted, claiming they can control the species. How are they supposed to control grizzly bears when they can’t even identify one?” says Lizzy Pennock, attorney at WildEarth Guardians.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BLACK BEAR AND A GRIZZLY BEAR?

Now authorities are warning other hunters to check their bear identification skills.

A grizzly bear can be recognized by its short, rounded ears, shoulder hump, long claws and arched (concave) facial profile, say officials with the Department of Conservation.

A black bear has large ears, a straight facial profile, no shoulder hump and shorter claws.

The size and coloration of a bear are not reliable methods of distinguishing the two, wildlife officials said.

The size of bears varies depending on their age and physical condition, making it difficult to identify a bear based on size alone, officials say.

Both bears also have different colors. A black bear can be blond, cinnamon or black, while a grizzly bear can have an almost black coloration.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU SEE A BEAR?

Bear attacks are rare in the United States, according to the National Park Service. In most attacks, bears are trying to defend their food, their young, or their habitat.

There are steps you can take to prevent an encounter with a bear from turning into a bear attack.

  • Identify yourself: Speak calmly and wave your arms slowly. This will help the bear recognize that you are human and not a threat.
  • Stay calm: Bears usually do not want to attack, but want to be left alone. Speak to the bear slowly and quietly.
  • Do not scream: Screaming could trigger a seizure.
  • Picking up small children: Do not let children run away from the bear. It may mistake them for small prey.
  • Hike in groups: It’s louder and smells worse in a group, says the National Park Service. Bears like to keep their distance from groups of people.
  • Stand tall: Go to higher ground and stand upright. Don’t make any sudden movements.
  • Don’t drop your bag: A bag on your back can deter a bear from accessing food and provide protection.
  • Walk away slowly: Move sideways so that you appear less threatening to the bear. This also allows you to keep a lookout.
  • And again, don’t run away: bears will chase you, just like a dog would.
  • Do not climb trees: Grizzly bears and black bears can climb too.

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