Two hunters say they spotted a female grizzly bear and two cubs near Independence Pass last week. If the sighting is confirmed, it would be the species’ first known appearance in Colorado in 27 years.
Taking the report seriously, Division of Wildlife officials used a helicopter with videographers and photographers on board Thursday to search the area but found no evidence to substantiate the report. The hunters told wildlife officials they watched the bear and her cubs the morning of Sept. 20 from about 80 yards for about a minute through binoculars and a spotting scope. The bears were in a clearing near Independence Pass. The hunters didn’t find tracks or scat after the bears moved on. An initial search on foot by wildlife officials Saturday also was unsuccessful. Bears groom themselves, so if scat were found, a grizzly bear’s telltale silver-tipped hairs would provide proof the elusive bruin still stalks Colorado. Officials found the hunters’ story “worthy of further investigation,” because both have some knowledge of bears, Division of Wildlife spokesman Tyler Baskfield said. Beyond that, officials refused to identify the hunters or give information about their background and knowledge. “We get grizzly sightings periodically throughout the state,” he said. “In this particular case, both gentlemen did have a background where they were familiar with both grizzlies and black bears. We owed it to the public to investigate further.” He said the two hunters requested they not be identified. Baskfield said Thursday’s search was aimed at tracks, scat, hair samples or any other physical evidence. “Right now, we’re talking to personnel that went up in the helicopter and haven’t decided what’s going to take place in the near future,” he said. “If we would find some evidence, we will keep the public up to speed,” he added. Although black bears are common in Colorado, the last sighting of a grizzly here dates to Sept. 23, 1979, when an outfitter on an archery elk hunt was attacked by a female grizzly in what is now the South San Juan Wilderness. He survived the attack, but the grizzly was killed. The Division of Wildlife closed its books on the grizzly in 1982, after concluding it was unlikely that grizzlies survived the decades of being killed by ranchers protecting their herds. Because of habitat issues, it’s unlikely grizzlies could migrate here from Yellowstone Park. Thus, as implausible as it may seem, if grizzlies remain in Colorado they are most likely longtime survivors of a reclusive, remnant population. Baskfield refused to discuss what could happen if a grizzly’s presence is confirmed. “It’s all hypothetical,” he said. “It’s tough for me to discuss that. We haven’t discussed that. We’re trying to find physical evidence at this point. When that evidence is found, we’ll proceed methodically at that point.” Confirming the presence of the endangered species in Colorado could set off a political chain reaction, starting with a moratorium on bear hunting in the area and potentially halting timber sales. It also could revive debate over reintroducing the bears to the state, an idea supported by some environmentalists and opposed by stockmen. As for whether the grizzlies pose a danger to people living or hiking in the Independence Pass area, Baskfield said, “Anytime they go into the back country, there are precautions they should take, whether for bears or other types of wildlife.” For more information on grizzlies, http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/species/mammals/grizzly/ CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0238 or email@example.com