Idaho is undeniably a state of wildlands, with seven national parks covering over 20 million protected acres, constituting nearly half of the state! Summer season in Idaho offers many exciting places to explore and appreciate, but we must remember that we share this land with the animals there. Since a huge chunk of Idaho’s land is federally protected, it serves as a haven for many animals.
Grizzlies are among the most powerful mammals in the Rockies, and they are not to be trifled with. The grizzly bear gets its name from its grizzled or silver-tipped hair, but it is also assumed to be derived from “grisly,” which means “horrible.” This article discusses where grizzly bears live in Idaho and other interesting facts.
Features of a Grizzly Bear
A grizzly bear’s color ranges from blond to black. They have a sizable hump between their shoulders that is made of muscle. Adult front claws are two to four inches long, light in color, and slightly curved. They have an average weight of 200 to 600 pounds and stand at a height of three and a half to four feet at the shoulder and six to seven feet tall on their hind limbs.
Where Do Grizzly Bears Live in Idaho?
Grizzlies are mainly observed in the Idaho Panhandle and inside or near Yellowstone National Park in eastern Idaho. Grizzly bears were once common throughout most of Idaho and the western United States, but their range has since been whittled down to four areas: the Selkirk Mountains, the Cabinet Mountains, Glacier National Park, and Yellowstone National Park.
The Selkirk Mountains of Idaho are home to 35 to 40 grizzly bears, and another 30 to 40 are found in Idaho and Montana’s Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem.
History of Grizzly Bears Living in Idaho
Grizzly bears are historically Great Plains animals. Their range included the eastern Idaho prairies, the Salmon River canyons, and the whole mountainous interior. These creatures have been prevalent in Idaho since the last Ice Age, or approximately 10,000 years. However, their presence within the state has vanished over the last century.
The economy of Idaho became increasingly centered on resource extraction as the settlement grew. Lumber, gems, gold, and furs made the grizzly bear a prized possession for many frontiersmen. When market demand for grizzly pelts was combined with increased ranching and farming competing for their habitat, it was a formula for extinction. Fortunately, the grizzly bears sought refuge in Yellowstone National Park, northern Montana, and the North Idaho Panhandle’s dense inland temperate rainforest. Recent sightings in January 2020 have re-established this keystone species. Their range is broadening, and the grizzly bear has returned to Idaho.
What Do Grizzly Bears Eat?
Grizzlies are omnivores that eat various food, including whitebark pine nuts and army cutworm moths. They can eat up to 40,000 moths per day and gain up to 30 pounds per week by eating these high-fat foods.
Grizzly bears have highly developed senses that help them find food. Bears see in color and see about as well as humans. A grizzly bear’s hearing is excellent, but its most important sense is its sense of smell. The grizzly bear’s nose is about 1,000 times more advanced than the nose of a human. In fact, bears remember where food and places are by smelling them.
What Should You Do if You Come Across a Grizzly Bear in Idaho?
If you encounter a grizzly bear, evaluate the situation and remain calm: DO NOT RUN. It is strongly advised that all hunters carry bear spray when hunting in grizzly country and keep the spray close at hand and easily accessible. Bears sprayed in the face closely usually stop attacking and are less likely to injure anyone.
If you are attacked, only use a weapon if the bear spray is unavailable. If all else fails, play dead until the bear leaves. This method has been proven effective in reducing injuries during an attack.
What Does the Presence of Grizzly Bears in Idaho Mean for the People?
The presence of grizzly bears proves that conversation efforts are fruitful beyond our wildest dreams. Idaho has enough conserved land to support a natural grizzly bear population, and North America’s top predator reintroduced into Idaho is a conservation success story.
At the same time, not everyone who enjoys the outdoors welcomes the grizzly bear. It’s easy to see why: its 1,000+ pound size and vicious temper make it a killing machine. Running into one of these creatures while hiking, biking, or hunting could result in death.
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- , Available here: https://idfg.idaho.gov/sites/default/files/brochure-2020-hunting-in-grizzly-bear-country.pdf
- USDA, Available here: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/ipnf/learning/?cid=fsm9_019058
- WWT, Available here: https://wildwesttrail.co/grizzly-bears-in-idaho/
- The Great State of Alaska, Available here: https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=livingwithbears.bearharmony