A large bear photographed in North Cascades National Park has been confirmed as a grizzly, according to a regional wildlife advocacy group.
Conservation Northwest says that government and other experts “unanimously” agreed the animal that hiker Joe Sebille shot images of high in the mountains of the park last October was Ursus horribilis, and might be the only one on the U.S. side of the range.
They say it is the first confirmed grizzly there in 15 years.
The organization was “bound to a certain degree of secrecy” about the location it was photographed, but did allow that it was in the Cascade River area, a tributary of the Skagit east of Marblemount, and well south of the British Columbia border.
An image posted in the Seattle Times version of this story shows mountain peaks with large snowfields in the background.
Officially, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimates the grizzly population in the North Cascades recovery zone as fewer than 20, but as a U.S. Forest Service biologist told me last year, that range also includes zero.
There are grizzly bears in the state’s Selkirks and a sighting in 2003 near Chesaw was confirmed as well.
A 1995 paper by two Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife biologists classified 25 sightings throughout the range in the prior decades as “confirmed” to be griz and another 110 as having “high reliability.”
While biologists need genetic evidence to confirm a wolf is a wolf and not a hybrid wolf, experts can use characteristics such as ears, hump, face and paw prints to differentiate between black bears and grizzly bears.
Still, they were unsure about a bear photographed foraging near Blanca Lake in the upper North Fork Skykomish River last summer until DNA results from hair traps and poop collected nearby determined that the animal was most likely a black bear.