Blanca Bear Poop, Hair Neg For Griz

Poop and hair gathered in Washington’s North Cascades near where a possible grizzly bear was photographed last summer turned up … regular old Ursus americanus.

That’s the word from expedited DNA tests on eight samples taken from a bait and barbed wire “corral” and the woods around tiny Virgin Lake in eastern Snohomish County.

“All of the bears that were attracted to the site … were kind enough to leave hair, and all poop in the area came from black bears (despite their coat color),” reported Donald Gay, a wildlife biologist for the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, by email this morning.

Trail cameras captured at least two black bears hanging around the bait station, but one of the animals decided to play with the camera so that the next series of shots are messed up, though show a large eyeball and some brown fur.

(USFS)

Brown was the color of the top half of a large bear seen foraging along the shores of the lake the month before. At least two photos of it were taken on an iPhone by hiker Sue Warga who was passing by.

In one, there’s an apparent hump behind the neck of the animal. When Gay sent the image to other bios, two-thirds thought it could be a grizzly.

VIRGIN LAKE BEAR. (SUE WARGA VIA USFS)

But when he obtained a second image that showed a better facial profile and a less pronounced hump, the experts were far less sure.

Biologists have been running bait corrals elsewhere in the Cascades, so roughly two weeks after the photographs turned up, one was placed a kilometer south of Virgin Lake, according to Gay. They did so because the lake is along the arduous but popular hiking trail to Blanca Lake in the headwaters of the North Fork Skykomish River. It was baited with a “lure that’s really effective at drawing in animals,” Gay says.

“I don’t know all of the items or their ratios, but I believe that I’ve heard that its most active ingredients are fish blood and fermented road-killed deer. In the presentations I’ve heard, the field crews have vomited more than once after opening a bottle, and take serious precautions about getting the stuff on their clothing,” says Gay.

Researchers ultimately collected two hair samples from the trap as well as six poop samples from around the lake, and sent them off to a lab in Nelson, British Columbia.

All eight turned up as black bear.

Gay says there still is a remote chance that the bear Warga photographed was a griz.

“It is possible that the bear made a long-distance movement and was not in the vicinity by the time the trap was installed,” he says.

But “in all likelihood, (the poop samples at the lake) came from that bear,” he says.

Which would make it one of Smokey’s distant relatives.

The search for Ursus arctos horriblis in the Cascades continues, though. Gay says another animal from the Cascade River area was said to have “exceptionally long claws, but other signs of being a black bear.”

The current population estimate of grizzlies in the North Cascades is from zero to 20 animals

“It’s real possible there are none on the U.S. side,” Gay told me last September. “We do know that in April, there was one on the Canadian side.”

The last confirmed mortality occurred 44 years ago. I wrote about that one in F&H News. It was shot by a hunter in the Thunder Creek area in fall 1966 and reported on in the Skagit Valley Herald.

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